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Scary sources of germs in your kitchen

Germy hide & seek

While it’s not surprising that your kitchen provides a great hiding spot for germs, you may be surprised at the sources of those germs. So what’s the germiest thing in your kitchen? Your hands, says Alexandra Zissu, author of The Conscious Kitchen (Clarkson Potter 2010). “The problem starts with your own two hands. In terms of germs in a kitchen, the worst thing that’s in there is your hands.”

Woman washing dishes

A germ-free kitchen starts with basic hand washing. In addition to scrubbing with warm, soapy water before you begin food prep, it's a good idea to wash between food types. For example, after you get the chicken in the oven, lather up before you start chopping veggies. Once your hands are clean, start tidying up the other scary places germs lurk in your kitchen. Just remember one simple rule: "Warm soapy water really does kill everything," said Zissu.

Kitchen sink

A study conducted by the University of Arizona found that kitchen sinks harbor more germs than both toilet bowls and garbage cans. For a safe and effective sink scrub, Zissu suggests mixing a natural liquid dish soap with some baking soda. "I don't like to use anything to clean with that I wouldn't eat because the residue gets on food," she said. Another good rule of thumb: Keep foods that you eat raw, like fruit, from touching the inside of the kitchen sink.

Cutting boards

Cutting boards collect germs in their grooves and gouges. If you don't thoroughly clean your cutting board after each use, cross-contamination can occur. Wash wood cutting boards with hot, soapy water. Replace the cutting board if it has deep gouges. Run plastic cutting boards through the dishwasher after each use. Consider dedicating one cutting board to meat prep and one to veggie prep to prevent contaminating veggies, especially if you're not going to cook them.

Sponges and dish towels

Bacteria thrive in damp places, so sponges and towels provide the perfect growth spots for these germs. The good news is that they're easy to sanitize. "Wring them out, and squeeze them really well between uses," said Zissu. "They can be boiled on the stovetop or popped in the microwave." Another option is to run sponges through the dishwasher to kill bacteria.

Countertops

Before and after preparing food, clean your countertops with hot, soapy water. Use absorbent paper towels to clean up messy spills, especially from meat, poultry or fish. Instead of soap and water, Zissu uses a thyme-based antiseptic cleaner by Seventh Generation. Because it's botanically based, she doesn't worry about any chemical disinfectants contaminating her food.

Refrigerator

The shelves and drawers inside can become contaminated if food packages leak. If anything spills, leaks or drips, wipe it up immediately. Does your fridge have a water dispenser on the outside? Scrub the tray that catches the runoff; it's the perfect place for mold and bacteria to flourish. Also, Zissu recommends keeping an eye on the seal of your fridge, which can grow mold -- especially in the summer, when it's hot outside but your fridge is cold.

Handles

Consider all the knobs and pulls on your cabinets, as well as the handles on your fridge, oven, microwave and toaster. These surfaces get a lot of hand-to-hand contact, especially as you're preparing food, but they aren't spots most people wipe down on a regular basis. As you wipe down your countertops at the end of a meal, run your warm, soapy sponge or paper towel over knobs and handles to rid those spots of bacteria.

Watch: How to clean a wooden cutting board

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