Spices are one of the most important ingredients that can enhance the flavor of any dish. While you may be more focused on what flavor you’re trying to achieve when cooking, making sure your workspace stays clean can help combat cross-contamination from germs. Especially as new research warns that harmful pathogens that can cause diseases like salmonella can get into your spice containers.
From washing dishes to cleaning kitchen surfaces, standard post-meal cleaning doesn’t usually include wiping down condiment containers.
However, a new study published in the Journal of Food Protection warns that the tiny jars have proven to be an “unlikely culprit in spreading disease.”
This means that pathogens such as salmonella could live on your spice containers.
Researchers found that condiment containers are most likely to become contaminated after cooking.
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During research, it was found that nearly half of the spice jars were contaminated after one person used them in cooking.
Study co-author Donald Schaffner said: “Our research shows that every condiment container you touch when you’re preparing raw meat can become cross-contaminated.
“This is something to be aware of during or after meal preparation.”
In case you don’t know, cross-contamination describes the process by which microbes are transferred from one substance or object to another, often causing “harmful effects”.
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Worse, the researchers warned that “a significant portion” of diseases like salmonella come from raw meat, including chicken, turkey, beef and pork.
That means the “harmful” germs can travel all the way from your favorite meat to your spice jar.
Fortunately, researchers believe that “proper food handling,” including appropriate cooking, consistent hand washing, and sanitizing kitchen surfaces and utensils, can combat cross-contamination.
They came to this conclusion by studying 317 adults who were instructed to cook an identical turkey burger in kitchens of different sizes.
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To simulate the movement of pathogens in a kitchen environment, the researchers pre-infected the meat with a bacteriophage called “MS2,” which served as a “safe” tracer.
Bacteriophages are viruses that infect bacteria and have no effect on humans.
Once the meal was cooked, the researchers wiped down kitchen utensils, cleaning areas, and kitchen surfaces to test for the presence of the MS2 tracer.
However, the research team also decided to examine condiment containers, sink faucets and handles based on the subjects’ behavior during the cooking sessions.
The swabs revealed that spice jars were the most commonly contaminated items, with around 48 percent showing traces of MS2.
Other commonly contaminated surfaces included refrigerator handles, trash can lids, and cutting boards.
Interestingly, faucet handles turned out to be the least contaminated objects examined.
Schaffner added, “We were surprised because we hadn’t previously seen any evidence of contamination from spice containers.”
As scientists think proper hygiene could help fight cross-contamination, it might be time to wipe down those spice containers.