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Food Safety: How to Avoid Cross Contamination

Jul 30, 2010

Food safety is often talked about in regards to infants and the elderly--but avoiding cross contamination among foods is important for all people. This article discusses ways to avoid cross contamination when working with different foods.

Wash Your Hands

The best way to avoid cross contamination is to start by washing your hands thoroughly before working with the food. Your hands can contain bacteria from numerous different sources. In fact, most people aren't aware of how many surfaces they touch on a daily basis. While it may seem obvious that you should wash your hands thoroughly before working with food, not everyone washes their hands in the right manner.

In order to remove all dirt, grime and germs from your hands, you must start by removing all rings, watches and bracelets, as well as bandages from both hands. Place hands under water that is as hot as you can tolerate, and lather with soap. Scrub your hands thoroughly, paying special attention to the skin between the fingers at the intersection of the palm, as well as to the nail and nail beds. If you have long fingernails, you may want to consider either trimming them before washing, or scrubbing behind the nail with a nail brush. Finally, rinse your hands with water that is again as hot as you can tolerate, and dry them on a clean, dry towel.

Use Clean Utensils

The next way to avoid cross contamination is to use different utensils for different jobs. For example, you should have a separate cutting board for fruits and vegetables as you use for meats. Using the same cutting board for these different products can easily result in the transfer of bacteria from the raw meat to the fruits and vegetables--and since fruits and vegetables aren't always cooked, there will be no opportunity for the bacteria to be killed, resulting in potential food-borne diseases.

When cleaning equipment that has been used to prepare raw meats, you may want to use separate dish towels and drying rags. Washing a bowl that has had raw chicken inside of it and then using the same rag to wash another bowl can transfer bacteria. Be sure to use common sense when dealing with foods that have the potential to cause cross contamination in order to prevent food-borne disease.

Store the Food Properly

A final way to avoid cross contamination is to store foods properly after use. This means to place the foods in the right spot in the refrigerator in order to prevent one product from contaminating another. Ideally, all food should be packaged in storage containers that do not allow for it to be dripped. In the event that drippage does occur, food should be stacked in a certain way to allow for the least likely change of food-borne disease.

Fruits and vegetables should be placed on the top shelf of the refrigerator. These products are least likely to drip, and if they do drip will not cause problems for the items stored below them. On the shelf below the fruits and vegetables, you should store chopped meats such as ground beef, turkey, or pork. These types of meats have a greater propensity to drip than fruits and vegetables. Finally, whole beef, chicken and fish should be on the bottom shelf. These types of food are most likely to drip; therefore, by placing them on the bottom shelf, they will not be able to contaminate other foods.

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