Your kitchen may sparkle and you may think you can eat off the floor, but a new report from Kansas State University says 90 percent of home chefs are unwittingly spreading contamination across kitchen surfaces.
To monitor home food preparation behavior, the Kansas team videotaped 123 home chefs asked to prepare a meal that included meat (raw initially) and a fresh fruit salad.
Prior to the taping, the study participants were divided into three groups. Two of the groups received food preparation safety counseling. The third did not.
The study is different from previous food preparation safety trials because the researchers actually observed the cooks as they prepared the meal. “A lot of studies in the past have been surveys asking consumers how they do things in the kitchen, but we have found that those are rather unreliable,” Randy Phebus, professor of food safety at Kansas State University and one of the authors of the study, said in a university interview.
The Most Careful Cooks Made Mistakes
Even though the cooks knew they were being observed and they worked hard to prevent any cross-contamination between the raw meat and the fruit salad, the majority of the study participants made mistakes that transferred bacteria that could potentially result in food-borne illnesses like salmonella poisoning, a condition that sickens 1 in 6 people each year.
A bout of salmonella is a miserable experience that includes nausea, vomiting and diarrhea. The symptoms can last for as long as seven days, and severe cases can be fatal.
Unfortunately, salmonella, like most food-borne pathogens, is sneaky. You can’t see it or smell it, so the only way to protect yourself or your family is to learn to prepare food safely. It is found in raw meat, eggs, unpasteurized milk or juice, cheese, contaminated raw fruits and vegetables (alfalfa sprouts, melons), spices and nuts
Pet owners and parents of children who own pets should also be aware that reptiles (snakes, turtles, lizards), amphibians (frogs), birds (baby chicks), pet food and treats can also carry salmonella as it lives in the gut of animals.
Keeping Surfaces Clean
After each study participant finished preparing food, the researchers found that the fruit salad, cooking pan and cabinet handles, counters, faucets and trash cans had traces of contamination. The highest level of contamination was found on hand or dish towels.
“We found that most people tried to wash their hands, but did it very ineffectively — either only using water or not washing for long enough,” Phebus said. “By not washing their hands correctly, they spread contamination to the hand towels. They then go back to those towels multiple times and re-contaminate themselves or the kitchen surfaces with those towels. It ultimately leads to contamination in the food product.”
To wash your hands effectively, follow these simple steps from the Mayo Clinic.
▪ Wet your hands with running water — either warm or cold. Apply liquid, bar or powder soap. Lather well.
▪ Rub your hands vigorously for at least 20 seconds. Remember to scrub all surfaces, including the backs of your hands, wrists, between your fingers and under your fingernails.
▪ Rinse well.
▪ Dry your hands with a clean or disposable towel or air dryer.
▪ If possible, use a towel or your elbow to turn off the faucet.
▪ Remember, anti-bacterial soap is not more effective than regular soap, but it’s often more expensive, so save a little money and stick with regular soap.
Also be careful to use only one set of utensils, plates and containers for raw foods.