Cross contamination: what it is and how to prevent it

Food’s that are ready- to-eat can become cross-contaminated with bacteria introduced on raw products like raw vegetables, raw meat or meat juices, other contaminated products, or by poor personal hygiene.

How does cross contamination of food happen?

Food science and the media have assisted consumer’s understanding about food illnesses and how to avoid becoming sick from contaminated food. However, before you can avoid cross contamination of food it is important to understand what cross contamination is.

Bacteria that cause disease are called “pathogens.” Certain pathogens can enter the food supply and they can cause food-borne illness. There are only a few types of pathogens that cause millions of cases of food-borne illness each year. Important to note, most cases of food-borne illness can be prevented.

So how do the bacteria get into the food? When you purchase food products bacteria may be present in them. Raw meat, poultry, seafood, and eggs are not germ-free. Neither is produce such as lettuce, tomatoes, sprouts, and melons. Food’s that are ready- to-eat can become cross-contaminated with bacteria introduced on raw products like raw vegetables, meat juices, or other contaminated products, or by poor personal hygiene.

Can you prevent cross contamination?

The Food and Drug Administration and Michigan State University Extension recommend these steps to prevent contamination:

Proper cooking or processing of food destroys bacteria. They can grow in any food such as meat, poultry, seafood, eggs, and dairy products in particular, as well as high-protein vegetables, such as beans and grains. In addition to proper cooking follow these steps:

  • Clean: Proper handwashing may eliminate a large percentage of food poisoning cases. Wash hands often, as well as all kitchen surfaces and utensils, the inside of the microwave, and the inside of the refrigerator.
  • Separate: Keep ready-to-eat foods separated from raw poultry, meats, seafood and eggs. When unclean objects touch food or raw meat juices or raw eggs touch cooked or ready to eat foods cross contamination occurs. Use two cuttings boards: one strictly for raw meat, poultry and seafood; the other for ready-to-eat foods like breads and vegetables. Discard old cutting boards that have cracks, crevices and excessive knife scars, bacteria can linger here.
  • Chill: refrigerate foods promptly and at a proper temperature to slow the growth of bacteria and prevent food poisoning. Make sure your refrigerator is set below 40°F and freezer is at or below 0°F. Thaw food in the refrigerator, under cold running water, or in the microwave right before cooking.

Follow these tips to keep you and your family safe from the cross -contamination of foods and to prevent food poisoning from food borne bacteria.

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