How To Avoid Cross Contamination

Do you defrost your chicken over on the top shelf of your fridge? Are you using your dish sponge to clean the counters? Do you cut everything on a single cutting board? If you said “yes” to any of these questions, you’re guilty of cross-contaminating. Find out ways to keep it straight and not cross-contaminate!

Do you defrost your chicken breast on the fridge's top shelf? Are you using your dish sponge to clean the counters? Do you cut everything on a single cutting board? Oh boy, if so, you’re guilty of cross-contaminating.

What’s Cross-Contamination?

It's pretty much what it sounds like -- one thing is contaminating another. In this case, it's when food bacteria are transferred from one surface to another. Sounds harmless -- except it's not. When given enough time, the right temperature and some moisture, bacteria can grow and thrive to levels that make you sick.

The CDC identifies cross-contamination as one of the top 5 causes of food-borne illnesses -- so prevention is key. Think about these 6 things to keep things clean and safe.

1) Mind Your Cutting Boards

Every kitchen should have at least two cutting boards (at least!) -- one for ready-to-eat foods and one for raw meats and poultry. Try to get different colors or types of cutting boards. These dishwasher-safe cutting boards are perfect because you can designate a color for each food type. Fish could be blue, raw meats red, poultry yellow and produce green.

Make sure to properly wash cutting boards. If you don’t have a dishwasher for the plastic cutting boards, make sure you use hot, soapy water -- and clean out your sink with detergent (or vinegar for a more natural alternative) often. Germs thrive in the sink. Once a cutting board has many cracks and crevices, it’s time to buy a new one. Don't give the bacteria a place to hide.

2) Wash Your Hands!

The signs in restaurants say this for a reason. Your hands are your most useful tool in the kitchen, but they can be detrimental to your health if you don’t wash them! Wash hands before you start prepping and re-wash them after handling raw foods, going to the bathroom, taking a break or talking on the phone (or browsing that recipe on your laptop).

Proper hand washing isn't just sticking your hands under some cold water for 2 seconds (even my 2-year old daughter knows better than that!). To wash your hands properly, first wet your hands with warm water and then apply soap. Vigorously scrub your hands, arms and between your fingers for 10-15 seconds. I tell my kids to sing "Happy Birthday" twice. Then, rinse and dry on a paper towel. Be careful drying your hands on hand towels, too, as you may just re-contaminate them.

3) Watch the Juices

When you store raw meats and poultry in the refrigerator, they can drip onto fruit, veggies and other foods that require no further cooking. This is just a disaster waiting to happen. These foods should be kept on the bottom of the fridge (I put mine in the lowest drawer) and you can even keep them in plastic bags to prevent dripping.

When marinating foods, make sure you do so in the refrigerator (not the counter) in a closed container. Sauce that is used to marinate raw meat, poultry or seafood should be discarded or boiled before being used on cooked foods. (Take note, grillers!)

4) Don’t Rinse Meats

In 2005, the USDA Dietary Guidelines for Americans came out with a perplexing guideline -- don’t rinse your meat or poultry before using it. Seems like the USDA found rinsing causes water to splash all over your countertops and any dishes in the sink or sitting nearby (yet another way to cross-contaminate). Instead, cook your meat, poultry or fish to the proper temperatures; the heat will kill off any bacteria or germs that you might think you're getting when you rinse.

5) Properly Rinse Produce

Cross-contamination can result from slicing open a melon! The dirt on the outside of the melon (and bacteria found in that dirt) finds its way to the inside. Best thing to do is rinse fruits and veggies in running tap water to remove visible dirt. When prepping veggies such as lettuce or cabbage, remove and toss the outermost leaves.

6) Clean All Surfaces

Use hot, soapy water with a clean cloth or paper towel to wipe kitchen surfaces and counters. Wash cloths used for cleaning in the hot cycle of your washing machine often (when was the last time you did that?). You can sanitize sponges with a quick zap in the microwave or dishwasher, but you should still replace them often since they harbor bacteria.

Also, scrub down counters and dishes every time you prep a food and before moving on to the next item. One high-power solution is a mix of 1 tablespoon of unscented, liquid chlorine bleach with 1 gallon of water. Use that to sanitize surfaces and utensils.

Keep Reading

Next Up

How to Avoid the Winter Blues

Less daylight, cold temps and more time indoors can lead to a case of Seasonal Affective Disorder or simply leave you feeling a gloomy. Keep your mood in check with these tips.

5 Holiday Pitfalls, and How to Avoid Them

5 likely ways to gain weight during the holidays, and what you can do to prevent them.

Top 5 Label Tricks and How To Avoid Them

Food labels are carefully worded to entice shoppers to choose certain items. A study published in the Journal of Consumer Research found dieters fall for simple labeling tricks that make them believe certain foods are healthier than they are. Find out the top 5 labeling traps and how to avoid them.

The Top 5 Foodborne Illnesses, and How To Avoid Them

I’ve been teaching and preaching about food safety for over 12 years and am glad to see more focus put on this issue. These days the food supply is brimming with food bugs – luckily, we can do something about it. A newly released study from the University of Florida found that the top 14 food microorganisms kill more than 1,300 people each year and cost over 14 million dollars in healthcare costs. Let’s stop these bad boys from making us sick (and costing us a fortune)— read up on the top 5 and what you can do to stop them.

Safety in the Kitchen: 5 Common Kitchen Accidents and How to Avoid Them

The best way to avoid an accident is to be smart, stay calm and think through a situation. Sometimes that's easier said than done, so here are a few tips to help you safely navigate your way through common kitchen blunders.

3 Common Baking Mistakes and How to Avoid Them, Plus the Only Cookie Guide You Need

Cookie Love by Mindy Segal is the perfect cookbook for home cooks who want to take their cookie game to the next level.

The Top Picnic Mistakes to Avoid, and How to Fix Them If They Happen, Plus Boozy Bubbles to Pack in the Basket

Plan the perfect summer outing with The Picnic, written by the masterminds behind the Portland Picnic Society.