Cross-contamination: A few simple steps can keep your food safe

Keep raw meat, poultry, fish and seafood away from produce and ready to eat foods.

What is cross-contamination? It sounds complicated but it’s quite simple. Cross-contamination occurs when bacteria or other pathogens are transferred from one object to another. For example, cross-contamination has occurred if blood from a raw hamburger drips onto lettuce in the refrigerator. Since we don’t usually cook lettuce, drippings from raw hamburgers onto the lettuce would not be eliminated by the cooking process. 

There are many ways to avoid cross-contamination by just thinking about how we are handling our foods. For example, when you are grocery shopping, package your produce in plastic bags provided in the produce department. When you get to the meat department, put any meat, poultry, fish or seafood in the plastic bags provided in the meat department before placing it into your shopping cart. Keep the produce separated from the meat items in your shopping cart.

When you are storing food in your refrigerator, keep raw meat, poultry, fish and seafood away from produce. To prevent raw meat juices from dripping onto your produce, do not place raw meat, fish, poultry or seafood above produce in the refrigerator.

When you are preparing food, keep produce and raw meat separate. Always wash food preparation areas, utensils and cutting boards thoroughly with hot water and soap before using them to prepare fresh produce. Better yet, designate one cutting board for preparing raw meats, poultry, fish and seafood and another for preparing produce. 

If you are going on a picnic, keep raw meats, chicken, fish or seafood in a separate cooler than ready to eat items such as potato salad, tuna salad, fresh fruits and vegetables, as well as any other items that will not be cooked before serving. 

Michigan State University Extension recommends always washing the plate that raw meats, poultry, fish or seafood was on with hot soapy water, or using a clean plate when removing cooked items off of the grill.

A few simple steps can prevent cross-contamination and keep your family and friends from getting sick with a foodborne illness. Check out the Fight BAC®  fact sheet to learn more.

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