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Avoid Cross-contamination

Cross-contamination is the moving of pathogens from one food to another food, which is ready to eat and will receive no further cooking.

An excellent general rule is to always keep cooked and ready-to-eat foods separate from raw foods.

  • Clean everything both before and after preparing food. Thoroughly wash your hands, knives, cutting boards, food preparation surfaces, and sink after any contact with raw poultry, meat, seafood, or any other potentially hazardous foods. Finish by rinsing with a commercial kitchen sanitizing solution or a dilute bleach solution (1 teaspoon per quart of water).
  • Wash your counter tops with soap and water before and after food preparation. It is especially important to wash your counter tops before food preparation if there is a cat in the house that gets up onto the counters. Sanitizing sprays and wipes are useful as an additional safety measure to assist in kitchen cleaning.
  • Rinse all fresh fruits - including melons - and vegetables thoroughly under running water before preparing or eating them. While it is true that this will not remove all microorganisms, it will reduce the number present. Pathogens have been isolated from a wide variety of fresh produce, and outbreaks of foodborne illness have been associated with many types of produce - cantaloupes and tomatoes, for example. If the skin is contaminated, the pathogens move into the fruit when it is sliced. Removing the skin or rind reduces the risk.
  • When grilling outdoors, always use a clean plate for the cooked meat.
  • Store raw meat and poultry items in the refrigerator on a tray or plate to prevent juices from dripping onto other food.
  • Don't store both raw and ready-to-eat meats together in the refrigerator "meat drawer". Choose this space for one or the other and let everyone in the family know which type of meat should be stored in the drawer.
  • Keep kitchen cloths and sponges clean. Launder dish cloths and sponges frequently and dry in the dryer to aid in killing pathogens. Sponges can be washed in the dishwasher on a regular basis. Dish sponges and cloths can be sanitized by heating the wet cloth or sponge in a microwave oven for one minute on high. Dishcloths and sponges also can be disinfected while cleaning the sink. Mix a gallon of water and cup bleach in the sink. Soak cloths in solution 5 minutes. Then rinse and dry the cloths.
  • Use paper towels to clean up spilled juices from meat or poultry.
  • It's best to have two cutting boards: one for raw meat, fish, and poultry and another one for cooked food, salads, and other food that won't be cooked before eating. A hard, non-porous cutting board such as one made of acrylic is easier to clean than a wooden board because you can put the acrylic board in the dishwasher. If your cutting board is washed by hand, it should be sanitized frequently.

Sanitizing is the killing of most of the pathogens (microorganisms that can make you sick). To sanitize hard, non-porous surfaces such as cutting boards: Wash the cutting board with hot sudsy water. Rinse, then drain and sanitize with either a kitchen sanitizer (follow directions on the bottle) or with a dilute chlorine bleach solution. If using chlorine bleach, mix 1 teaspoon of bleach with a quart of water and spray or wipe the bleach solution onto the cutting board. Leave the bleach solution on the cutting board for at least 2 minutes. Then rinse and air dry.

To sanitize dishes and utensils: Wash dishes, then soak for 5-10 minutes in a solution of 1 tablespoon chlorine bleach per gallon of water. Drain and air dry. Dishes washed in a dishwasher will have most pathogens removed by the water and soap. Using the heated drying cycle of the dishwasher increases the destruction of pathogens.
Note: Sanitizing dishes is most important if there is illness in the family or the dishes and utensils are used by a person who is at high risk for foodborne illness due to a weakened immune system.

Frequently Asked Questions
  • Is cross-contamination a common error in the home kitchen?
  • Should I use an antibacterial cleaner when I clean my kitchen?
  • What do you mean by 'cross contamination'?
  • Which is better, wooden or plastic cutting boards?

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  • Pennsylvania State University food safety
  • Food and Nutrition Information Center at USDA
  • U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
  • U.S. Foodborne Illness Education Information Center
  • U.S. Government Gateway to Food Safety Information
  • Nutrition and Health Information from the US Government Websites
  • USDA Food and Nutrition Services
  • Food Safety and Inspection Service at USDA
  • WSU Extension Publishing & Printing
  • Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition at FDA

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