Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Cross Contamination

Growing up, no one thought about how dangerous it can be to use the same platter for uncooked and cooked meat.  It was just something you did at barbecues.  We are all so much better informed now.  Yet, everyone makes mistakes sometimes.  Hopefully, by highlighting situations that can lead to cross-contamination, we can see how easy it is to avoid it.

First of all, what is cross-contamination and why is it bad?  "Cross-contamination occurs when microorganisms are transferred from one surface or food to another.  Common factors responsible for foodborne illness include:

  • Adding raw, contaminated ingredients to food that receives no further cooking
  • Food-contact surfaces (such as equipment or utensils) that are not cleaned and sanitized before touching cooked or ready-to-eat food
  • Allowing raw food to touch or drip fluids onto cooked or ready-to-eat food
  • Hands that touch contaminated (usually raw) food and then touch cooked or ready-to-eat food
  • Contaminated cleaning cloths that are not cleaned and sanitized before being used on other food-contact surfaces"
ServSafe Essentials, Second Edition

The key is, cooking kills microorganisms that can make you sick.  If something is not going to be cooked any more, make sure it does not get contaminated by something raw.

Easy ways to prevent cross-contamination:

  • Create a flow of traffic at the stove or barbecue, with the raw-food plate on one side and the cooked-food plate on the other.  Have separate tongs or spatulas for moving food.
  • Buy several cutting boards, all in different colors.  Red for meat, yellow for chicken, blue for fish, and green for veggies.  They sell them everywhere.  This set at BB&B is idiot-proof.  Wash with soap and hot water between uses, even for the same meal.
  • Wash hands between tasks, and wash your knives frequently.
  • Change your kitchen towels frequently, and wash in hot water.  I have two separate towels hanging on the oven door.  One is for hand-wiping, the other is for drying hand-washed pots.
  • If a utensil or pot is dishwasher-safe, the heat drying cycle will sanitize it.  I recommend placing the kitchen sponge in the dishwasher at least once a week, and discard it after a month.  If you wipe down the counter with a dirty sponge, it doesn't matter if anything you put on it is clean.
A restaurant trick for storing potentially hazardous food is to place the most hazardous items like raw meat on the bottom shelf (or bottom drawer), and work your way up to the least hazardous items.  That's usually something in a jar, like mayo.  That way, if a container breaks and drips onto whatever is below it, that item is going to be cooked anyway.  I know, "but veggie drawers are near the bottom of the fridge".  Use the little plastic bags from the market.  You can recycle them later.  Pull out the drawer regularly and wash it with hot, soapy water.

Hope this creates some new habits.  Happy cooking!

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