Cross-contamination is the nasty culprit behind many foodborne illnesses. That’s because pathogens can spread from food or unwashed hands to prep areas, equipment, or utensils. Even if the food is cooked correctly, meals can still be contaminated with pathogens if the prep process isn’t done properly. The CDC estimates that an average of 3,000 people die each year from foodborne illness so preventing such illness with proper food handling is of monumental importance.
Cross-contamination occurs when disease-causing microorganisms, like bacteria and viruses, are transferred from one food to another. As a result, cross-contamination is one of the leading causes of foodborne illness. This happens most frequently from unwashed cutting boards, hands, or kitchen tools.
So, how can you prevent cross-contamination? Start by making sure your staff has gone through proper food safety training so that your employees all have knowledge of how to properly clean surfaces and equipment and how to prepare and store food in ways that prevent cross-contamination. Aside from that, here are the basics that you need to know.
Wash your hands
Personal hygiene is critical to preventing cross-contamination. Washing your hands often gets rid of bacteria that could contaminate the food you are preparing.
Switch equipment for raw and cooked food
Using the same utensils and cutting boards for different foods, such as raw poultry and produce, can lead to cross-contamination. So, make sure you have a system in place to keep these utensils separate. Also make sure to wash and sanitize your utensils after each task to kill of the bacteria that might be lingering.
Clean and sanitize all work surfaces
Make sure that work surfaces are being cleaned after every task. It’s important to use sanitizer and not just wipe off the surface, since that does not kill pathogens.
Do not wash raw meat
In general, washing food removes bacteria. However, you should never wash or rinse raw meat before cooking it, since bacteria from raw meat and poultry juices can spread to other surfaces or utensils.
Cover raw food and keep it separate from ready-to-eat products
Proper food storage techniques can help prevent bacteria from spreading from one food to another. Cover raw foods to prevent any bacteria from transferring to ready-to-eat products and contaminating them. It is also best practice to store these foods separately to reduce the risk of contamination even further.
Use proper food safety labels
Clear food labels let employees know what food is being stored so they can properly separate food in a way that prevents cross-contamination. Having the date labelled ensures that employees know when to throw the food out.
For a more in depth look at cross-contamination as well as other ways to prevent foodborne illness, take our food handlers training course.
And watch this quick video to learn more about how to prevent cross-contamination.