April 11, 2024

Consumer Food Handling Leads to Cross-Contamination

A new peer-reviewed article by Jeannie Sneed, et al, published in Food Protection Trends says that consumer food handling practices lead to cross-contamination. Although outbreaks that sicken multiple persons are usually linked to mass produced foods or restaurants, about 9 to 15% of most foodborne illnesses occur in the home.

Ground Beef on PaperThe study looked at the “Food Safe Families” clean and separate messages and to determine the impact of external safe food handling cues. One hundred-twenty-three parents who were between 20 and 45 years of ago, who prepared four or more meals at home each week, and had at least one child less than 13 years old in the home were studied. Two experimental groups were educated about safe food handling; one through traditional food safety messages, the other through Ad Council public service announcements. A control group was not given any education.

They were then videotaped preparing a meal with raw chicken or ground beef inoculated with Lactobacillus case (tracer organism), and a ready to eat fruit salad. The researchers found that, after preparation, about 90% of the salads were contaminated, and 24% were highly contaminated. Bacterial levels were lower for the food safety messages group. And hand washing scores were lower for the control group.

Cloth towels were the most frequently contaminated contact surface. Cell phones should be studied as a source of cross-contamination, especially since the phones were not washed or disinfected when used in the kitchen for looking at recipes. The study found that most of the participants were not able to prepare a salad without contaminating it with the tracer organism.

Another study done at the University of Westminster, published in the March 2015 edition of The Journal of Hospital Infection found that single-use paper towels are the most hygienic way to dry hands after washing at the sink. That study compared air dryers, jet air, and paper towels.

The study also showed that handling raw meat and poultry are a food safety risk in consumer kitchens. Most, or more than 82%, of the participants left meat-originating contamination on the sink, refrigerator, oven, and/or trash cabinet handles.

The researchers conclude that educational methods have some impact on reducing cross-contamination in consumer kitchens, but the impact is inconsistent. The question is “how to best impact food handling behaviors to reduce cross-contamination? Research is needed what motivates consumers to change behavior to reduce the risk of foodborne illnesses and what messages have been effective.


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