cleaning

10 germy spots in your kitchen you don't know about -- and how to clean them

May 21, 2014 at 12:02 PM ET

Four rubber and silicone spatulas in different colors
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It’s no secret that the kitchen is the germiest place in the house, but you might be surprised at the spots you’re not cleaning that may be harboring E.coli, mold and salmonella. We asked NSF International home safety expert Cheryl Luptowskito to share the most surprising trouble spots in the room, and cleaning pros chimed in with the best tips to sanitize these bacteria magnets.

Coffee reservoir

What's wrong with it: In addition to caffeine, that first cup of joe might include an unhealthy dose of mold, mildew and bacteria. That’s because the coffee reservoir provides a cozy environment for hatching these microorganisms, making it one of the top five germiest places in the home, Luptowski says.

What to do: Follow the manufacturer’s cleaning instructions for your specific coffee maker. A frequent recommendation is to add four cups of undiluted white vinegar to the reservoir, let it stand for 30 minutes, then run vinegar through the brew cycle. According to green cleaning expert Leslie Reichert, this gives the vinegar time to create an acidic environment that is toxic to germs. Follow with two to three cycles of fresh water to remove all traces of vinegar. Do this green cleaning routine at least once a month or every 40-80 brew cycles.

Can opener

What's wrong with it: Manual and electric can openers can host E.coli, salmonella, yeast and mold if they’re not cleaned thoroughly after each use.

What to do: Manual can openers can be cleaned in the dishwasher, if dishwasher safe, or hand washed in hot soapy water. If hand washing, make sure to clean around the cutting blades, since that’s where food is most likely to stick. Rinse and dry completely after each use.

Unplug any electric can opener before cleaning it. Using a toothbrush and hot soapy water, scrub the cutting area completely with the cutting mechanism both open and closed. Apply clean water with a toothbrush to rinse and dry completely.

Another green-cleaning option is to substitute hydrogen peroxide or undiluted vinegar for hot soapy water. Rinse and dry.

Rubber spatula

What's wrong with it: These food prep workhorses can breed E.coli, yeast and mold if not cleaned properly.

What to do: If dishwasher safe, simply place one-piece spatulas in the dishwasher or scrub in hot soapy water, paying close attention to the area where the spatula and handle join. For two-piece spatulas, separate the handle from the spatula before placing in the dishwasher. If there is a build up of food residue where the handle inserts into the spatula, wipe it off first. If you prefer to hand clean, wash in hot soapy water, then rinse and dry well. Allow wooden handles to air dry completely before reassembling.

To clean green: Wipe off any debris, then pour hydrogen peroxide over the handle and into the opening in the spatula where the handle fits. Rinse well and dry.

Refrigerator vegetable/fruit compartment

What's wrong with it: Along with apples and lettuce, your refrigerator veggie and fruit compartment could also be holding salmonella, listeria, yeast and mold. Proper temperature (below 41 degrees) and storage can keep these germs at bay.

What to do: Every month, empty and, if possible, remove the veggie drawer from the refrigerator. Wash with a mild detergent solution. Rinse in clean water or, to deodorize, rinse first with 1-2 tablespoons of baking soda to one quart of water then rinse in clean water. Wipe dry.

To clean green: Whether you’re buying, storing or preparing produce, keep fruits and veggies away from other foods, especially meat, poultry and seafood, and make sure juices from these items do not drip onto produce. Also, store washed produce separately from unwashed produce to avoid cross-contamination.

To clean green: Reichert uses a baking soda-based green cleaner instead of detergent.

Refrigerator meat compartment

What's wrong with it: Salmonella, E.coli, yeast and mold make the refrigerator meat compartment one of the top hiding places for germs. Make sure the meat, poultry and seafood you serve are kept below 41 degrees.

What to do: If possible, remove drawer from refrigerator and empty. Clean with warm water and mild detergent, rinse and dry. To remove odors, rinse first with 1-2 tablespoons of baking soda in one quart of water. Rinse and wipe dry. Clean monthly or whenever meat/seafood/poultry juices spill.

To clean green: Use white distilled vinegar instead of detergent. Vinegar also removes odors so you can skip the baking soda rinse.

Blender gasket

What's wrong with it: Blenders can harbor some of the nastiest germs in the kitchen, as salmonella, E.coli, yeast and mold thrive on blender gaskets that aren't cleaned.

What to do: After each use, unplug the blender and take the blender jar off the base. Unscrew the blade assembly from the bottom of the jar, then remove the blade and gasket. If dishwasher safe, clean the jar, the screw-on bottom, gasket and blade in the dishwasher. Another option is to hand wash them in hot soapy water, rinse well and dry.

To clean green: Rinse blender parts in warm water to remove residue. Wash with undiluted vinegar or hydrogen peroxide instead of soapy water. Rinse well and dry.

Refrigerator water dispenser

What's wrong with it: Because yeast and mold can build up on the dispenser spout, drinking water from refrigerator water dispensers may cause problems for people with an allergy sensitivity.

What to do: Clean dispenser spouts with a pipe cleaner or small brush alternately dipped in warm water, vinegar and hydrogen peroxide (in that order), according to Carl Major, owner of Major Appliance, AC and Heating in Slidell, La. Clean as needed or once a month. This is also a green cleaning option.

Remember to replace external water filters annually or as recommended by the manufacturer, says Mike Barker, president of California’s Plumbing- Heating- Cooling Contractor’s Association.

Ice dispenser

What's wrong with it: The ice dispenser drawer harbors mold and yeast, says Allen Rathey, president of The Healthy House Institute. 

What to do: To clean the ice bin, turn the ice maker off, remove the bin and discard the ice. Using warm water and a mild dish detergent, wash the bin, rinse well and dry. Clean monthly.

To clean green: Substitute vinegar for dish detergent.

Knife block

What's wrong with it: Those perfectly-fitted slots that hold knives so well also provide a dark, moist breeding ground for yeast and mold, Rathey says.

What to do: Before cleaning the knife block, remove the knives. Turn the block upside down and shake out debris and crumbs that may have collected inside. Hand wash the block in hot soapy water, cleaning the slots with a small brush, such as a baby bottle nipple brush. Rinse well then sanitize with a mild bleach solution (one tablespoon of bleach to a gallon of water). Allow solution to remain in contact with slots for one minute, then rinse the block and slots thoroughly. Dry upside down on a clean surface. Clean and sanitize the block monthly if knives are used frequently.

To keep mold and bacteria from building up in the block, make sure knives are clean and completely dry before inserting them into the slots.

To clean green: Substitute undiluted vinegar or hydrogen peroxide for bleach solution. Rinse well.

Pet food bowls

What's wrong with it: Not only are your pet dishes and toys a source of staph and other coliform bacteria, they’re also home to yeast and mold.

What to do: Wash dishes daily either in the dishwasher or by hand with hot soapy water. When washing by hand, soak dishes once a week for 10 minutes in a mild bleach solution (one cap of bleach in one gallon of water).

To clean green: Substitute undiluted white vinegar for bleach. Rinse dishes thoroughly and allow them to air dry.

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