Pay attention to the cleanliness of your spice containers

Spices are often the secret to a successful dish, and it is not uncommon for amateur cooks to make a dish extraordinary with a pinch of Espelette pepper, Sichuan pepper or, for the more daring, clove powder.

And once your culinary feat has been accomplished, if it seems natural to you to thoroughly clean your work surface, your utensils or even your cutting board, perhaps you do not pay the same attention to certain containers that have been handled after touching food.

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However, according to a recent survey conducted in the United States, this oversight could prove dangerous, particularly in the case of spice containers which can be easily contaminated by microorganisms harmful to health.

“In addition to the more obvious surfaces like cutting boards, trash can lids and refrigerator handles, here’s something else you need to pay attention to when trying to be clean and hygienic in your kitchen,” said Professor Donald Schaffner.

“Our research shows that any spice container you touch when preparing raw meat can be contaminated. You need to be aware of this during or after meal preparation.”

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For the study, researchers observed the behavior of more than 370 adults as they cooked the same turkey burger.

And while kitchen utensils and surfaces were most often cleaned, the researchers noted that the most frequently contaminated objects were spice containers, with around 48% of samples showing signs of contamination.

“We were surprised because we had never seen evidence of contamination of spice containers before,” continued Donald Schaffner.

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“Most research on cross-contamination of kitchen surfaces from handling raw meat or poultry products has focused on cutting boards or faucet handles and neglected surfaces like spice containers, trash can lids and other kitchen utensils. This makes this study more comprehensive than previous studies.”

Foodborne illnesses such as salmonella and campylobacter account for nearly two million infections a year in the United States, according to studies conducted by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

Scientists believe that proper food handling (including proper cooking, constant hand washing, and sanitizing of kitchen surfaces and utensils) can help combat these cross-contaminations.

The full results of this study have been published in the Journal of Food Protection.

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