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WEB EXTRA: The Smell Test

CHARLOTTE, NC (WBTV) - You scrub your counters and wash out your sink but did you ever wonder where there might be bacteria hiding in the nooks and crannies of your kitchen?

We put a Charlotte family's kitchen to a surprise test, testing how much bacteria is hiding where and which foods stored in the refrigerator just aren't stored in a safe way.

Natia Walker and her husband have three boys.

"That's lots of activity and lots of little hands all over the place. We clean a lot but I don't know if I ever really feel like our kitchen is as clean as it could be at any given time," she said.

Walker admits it made her a little nervous to see someone on her doorstep with a box full of petri dishes, but she was also excited to learn the results.

We enlisted the help of two experts. Tiffany Williams is a doctoral student at UNC-Charlotte. She would search for, and swab, areas where bacteria like e-coli and salmonella might be hiding and then grow the samples in her lab. Jessica Perry is a senior environmental specialist for the Mecklenburg County Health Department. She would check out the family refrigerator to be sure all of the food was stored properly.

Tiffany took samples from the refrigerator and microwave handles, the cutting board, the kitchen sink and the kitchen sink handles.

"Natia said she washes her chicken before she cooks it. You don't have to. When you cook it the bacteria is killed but when you wash it that bacteria can sit in the bottom of the sink," Tiffany said.

At the same time, Jessica inspected the refrigerator to see how the food was stored.

"First of all if you have cooked something and you want to put leftovers away they should go into the fridge while still warm, at 135 degrees or hotter. Many people cool down to room temperature but that is the best environment for bacteria to grow," Jessica said.

She recommended foods be stored in a particular order with raw protein on the bottom along with eggs so they don't leak onto other things. Cooked and ready to eat foods should be above.

The inspectors left and in four days Tiffany had the results of the swabs.

"Overall I would say your kitchen is very clean but the kitchen sink is the biggest problem area," she said.

In one cubic inch of surface area she found 10,000 bacteria.

"All bacteria isn't bad but you have to know what is there so you can control it," Tiffany said.

When it comes to cleaning our experts say the right way is a several-step process. First wipe any pieces and particles from any surface after each task and then disinfect the area. They say a solution of water with a few drops of bleach should do the trick.

For more information about making sure your kitchen is clean and your food stored properly, watch the web exclusive video on this page.

You can also click here for access to a great website with plenty of advice about food safety.

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