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SINGAPORE - Most of us would believe that the germiest places in our kitchens must be the kitchen sink or the floor, but think again.
According to a new study by NSF International, an independent public health and environmental organisation, the dirtiest and best homes for germs in the kitchen are actually the meat and vegetable refrigerator compartments.
These common kitchen appliances harbour unsafe levels of E. coli, Salmonella, yeast and mould, which may cause food-borne illness.
As follow up to its 2011 germ study which revealed that your kitchen is the "germiest" place in home, NSF International's 2013 Household Germ Study was conducted in an effort to understand everyday Americans' perceptions of germs in the kitchen and the effectiveness of their cleaning habits.
What they did was to ask 20 families to swab 14 items in their homes. These items included blenders, spatulas, knife blocks, microwave keypads, can openers, pizza cutters, strainers, silverware storage trays and food containers with rubber seals.
The swabs were then tested for three leading foodborne pathogens: E. coli, Salmonella and Listeria, as well as for yeast and mould.
The analysis revealed that many kitchen items regularly used to prepare food alarmingly harboured pathogens. Yeast and mould were present on 100 per cent of the items tested and 25 per cent of the items were contaminated with both salmonella and E. coli.
Listeria monocytogenes - which is one of the most virulent food-borne pathogens, with 20 to 30 per cent of clinical infections resulting in death - was found on 10 per cent of all items tested.
Unlike Salmonella and E. coli, Listeria can grow at refrigerator temperatures.
Results "were all a little bit surprising," NSF microbiologist Lisa Yakas told CBSNews.com last month. The germiest places in the kitchen weren't the places commonly thought of as "dirty", but tended to be those that aren't cleaned as well or as often as others
Yakas told CBSNews.com that on the harmless-looking spatula, the team discovered all three pathogens.
"And what people don't realise is that sometimes spatulas are actually in two pieces instead of one piece. So, what we want to point out to people is that both pieces need to be cleaned and dried thoroughly," she said.
She pointed specifically to the bottom of the spatula head that connects it to the handle, and reminded people to make sure that the hard-to-reach area is free from water and food particles.
"Just make sure you clean it with warm soapy water, clean both pieces and dry them thoroughly so that when you put them together, there is nothing leaking out, it's all dry and it's ready to go. And it doesn't provide an environment for micro-organisms," she said.
She also highlighted the can opener as a kitchen tool that many people use everyday, but one that is rarely washed.
She said the team found E. coli, Salmonella, yeast and mould on the grooves of most can openers. "Some can openers are dishwasher safe, so you can scrub them a little and pop them in the dish washer," she said.
View the gallery below to find out where are the germiest spots in your kitchen and how to combat the creepy-crawlies.
Here are some tips on how to clean and sanitise your kitchen by NSF International:
Kitchens can be one of the most dangerous places in a home because of the potential presence of bacteria on raw produce and meats. If you fail to keep your food preparation surfaces clean and sanitized, food can easily be contaminat ed and cause your family to become ill.
Cleaning vs sanitising
Whenever you start food preparation activities, it's a good idea to clean and sanitize your work surface. Cleaning and sanitizing are two different processes. Cleaning is done first to help remove food and dirt from a surface, followed by sanitizing to help reduce germs.
To clean a surface such as kitchen counters, wash with a mild detergent mixed with water. After rinsing with clean water, disinfect the surface with a mild bleach-based solution (1 cap of household bleach to a gallon of hot water) or other disinfecting agent as recommended by the surface manufacturer.
Try to avoid using bleach products that contain added fragrances or other added ingredients, and use cleaners designed and tested for use in food preparation areas, as others could leave harmful residues.
Kitchen drains and disposals should be periodically sanitized as well by pouring a solution of 1 teaspoon chlorine bleach in 1 quart of water down the drain.
If you choose to wash dishes by hand, scrape away excess food, then wash thoroughly in hot soapy water and rinse with clean water.
Dishes should be washed within two hours and allowed to air-dry. If you prefer to use a dishwasher, many residential dishwashers today are certified to not only effectively clean dishes, but to also sanitize dishware when operated on the sanitizing cycle.
General kitchen cleaning tips
If you are planning to clean your entire kitchen, try to start in the main food preparation area and work your way outward into the rest of the room from the top down. This helps avoid tracking dirt and germs back into your main food handling areas.
For cleaning nonfood surfaces, a simple mixture of vinegar or baking soda in hot water can be used.
Washing walls with a solution of hot water and vinegar helps freshen a room and neutralize odours. It also works well to clean windows and to dissolve dirt and grease on kitchen cabinets.
Baking soda can be used not only to help adsorb odours around the house, but also to help clean nonfood areas that you don't want to scratch. However, neither of these options should be used in place of disinfectants in areas where bacteria can grow, such as counters and sinks.