Kitchen dangers: are you being slowly poisoned by your spice rack?


Name: Spice racks.

Age: Ancient.

Appearance: Basically, just a toilet.

How dare you. My spice rack is pristine and beautifully organised. You’re only saying that because you don’t have a microscope.

And what if I did? Then you would see that your spice jars are probably the filthiest part of your entire kitchen.

I find that hard to believe. I also have a very filthy bin. Yes, but you don’t drag stuff out of the bin, then handle raw meat all over it and eat it, do you?

How rude! Of course not. But that’s exactly what you do with your spice jars. You’re handling a nice bit of raw chicken, and then you grab a jar of smoked paprika, and suddenly, you’re passing the meat’s germs on to the spice lid. Then you put the jar back without washing your hands. Correct?

Fine, you got me. And when was the last time you had food poisoning?

Weird you should ask. I’ve got food poisoning right now. I’m not surprised. A study commissioned by the US Agriculture Department Food Safety and Inspection Service has shown that your spice rack is an absolute nightmare for cross-contamination.

Please explain what that means. It means that when you touch something like raw meat, you essentially cover your hands in pathogens. And that gets transferred to everything that you subsequently handle.

But I’m always sure to wipe down after myself. Really? Do you wipe down everything? Do you wipe down surfaces and knife handles?

Of course. And chopping boards and sinks?

Yes! I’m not a monster. And each individual little jar of herbs and spices, concentrating on the lids?

Well, um … I thought not. Listen to what Donald Schaffner, the study’s lead author, has to say: “If one were to handle a contaminated spice container, and then accidentally put one’s finger in one’s mouth, this might result in ingestion of pathogens and subsequent illness.”

God, I’m poisoning myself. Well, steady on. As we all learned during Covid, cross-contaminated microorganisms can’t live for ever on a surface. Over time, they will die. Still, it’s better to be safe than sorry.

So what can I do? That should be obvious. You should be washing your hands with soap and water regularly to cut down on the possibility of contamination. And, on top of that, give your spice jars a wipe after you’re done with them.

No, it’s fine. What?

I’m never going to get ill. Why?

I’m British. I don’t season my food with anything, ever. All my spices are at least a decade old. Oh, that’s right, me too. Forget everything I said, then.

Do say: “Can I make you my spicy chicken surprise?”

Don’t say: “The surprise is pathogenic E coli.”

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