What many people don’t know, well maybe don’t want to know, is that one of our main goals in food service is not to keep bacteria from growing on our food, but to control the bacterial growth. That’s right, control the growth, because bacteria is on everything we eat. However, through careful safeguards and control systems we minimize the growth of bacteria to keep it at safe levels. Avoiding cross-contamination is one of these controls. Sounds gross, I know, but it’s the truth. This means that it’s important for home cooks to be aware of these same safeguards.
Foods are classified into one of two categories; cooked/ready-to-eat and raw/uncooked.
Ready to eat foods are just that, foods that we can eat now. Hard boiled eggs, cooked bacon, deli meats, and raw fruits or vegetables are all examples of ready-to-eat food.
Uncooked chicken, raw eggs, fish, and other uncooked meats make up the bulk of the raw/uncooked category.
Cross-contamination occurs when we use the same utensils, surfaces, cleaning towels or dirty hands to cut, carry, and prepare both uncooked/raw and ready-to-eat foods. Think, cutting raw chicken and then slicing raw tomatoes on the same surface or with the same knife without washing it.
A good deal of cross contamination can occur before we even start cooking. The grocery store is an over-looked step in the food safety process. For example, gooey chicken packaging touching the handle of your milk jug is a great way to spread salmonella or campylobacter.
Use these tips to keep your food safe.
- Keep your ready-to-eat foods away from raw meats or dairy products in the grocery cart
- Use plastic bags in the store to keep foods separated and seepage contained
- Wash and sanitize cutting services when switching between ready-to-eat and raw/uncooked foods.
- Wash your hands frequently and between tasks
- Don’t use a common hand towel to wipe up spills. This just spreads any bacteria all over everything you touch or wipe down with the towel.
- Keep a sanitizer bucket and towel handy for cleanups: 1 tablespoon bleach mixed into 1 gallon of water. Allow to air dry.
- Wash resusable tote bags