Be Safe, Don’t Cross-Contaminate

Posted: September 8, 2012

Be Safe, Don’t Cross Contaminate is this year’s theme for National Food Safety Month. It’s a perfect time to increase awareness about the importance of preventing cross contamination, a common problem resulting in foodborne illness...

According to the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), cross-contamination is the transfer of harmful bacteria to food from other foods, cutting boards, utensils, etc., if they are not handled properly. This usually happens when juices from raw meat, poultry and seafood contaminate ready-to-eat foods such as lettuce and other produce which will be consumed without cooking. Utensils, cutting boards and hands are all means which can be used to transfer the pathogens from food to food.

     There are a number of things consumers can do to prevent cross contamination. When shopping, put packages of raw meat, poultry and seafood into plastic bags and keep them separated from other food in your shopping cart. It is also a good idea to separate these foods from other foods when checking out and packing your grocery bags.

     When arriving home from the supermarket, refrigerate perishable foods immediately. Place raw meat, poultry and seafood in sealed plastic bags to prevent juices from dripping onto other foods. Also, store eggs in their original container rather than using an egg tray in your refrigerator.

     When preparing food, wash hands with soap and warm water for 20 seconds before and after handling food, using the restroom, wiping noses, changing diapers, or handling pets. Clean up meat and poultry juice spills immediately so the raw product does not contaminate the cooked or ready-to-eat product. Use hot, soapy water and paper towels or clean cloths to wipe up kitchen surfaces or spills. Wash cloths often in the hot cycle of your washing machine. Clean surfaces and utensils with hot, soapy water, rinse and sanitize using a solution of one tablespoon of unscented chlorine bleach to one gallon of lukewarm water.

     When using cutting boards, use a separate board for fresh produce and another board exclusively for raw meat, poultry and seafood. Once cutting boards become excessively worn or develop hard-to-clean grooves, replace them.

     To prevent foodborne illness, don't use the same platter and utensils for both raw and cooked meat, poultry and seafood. Simply rinsing off the soiled dish will not eliminate harmful bacteria so use a new, clean plate or utensil.

     If you have questions or concerns about food safety, contact the USDA Meat and Poultry Hotline at 1-888-MPHotline (1-888-674-6854). TTY 1-800-256-7072. Or check out the Fight BAC!® web site at or the Gateway to Government Food Safety Information site at

Karen Thomas is a family and consumer sciences educator for Penn State Extension in Lackawanna County.