Two of the most used items in kitchens would have to be cloth kitchen towels and paper towels. According to a new study, they are also the most contaminated objects in your kitchen.
I use both kitchen towels and paper towels – a lot. I’ve often wondered about cross-contamination depending on what foods I’m preparing for dinner. Cross-contamination refers to the accidental transfer of potentially hazardous germs from one surface to another.
Preparing meats and poultry always give me cause for concern because of the wrappings (filled with liquid) and all the places I touch after handling them. No matter how many times I wash my hands and the surfaces I’ve touched, I still have to dry my hands and that’s when I usually grab a kitchen towel or a paper towel.
That’s why the results from this study aren’t surprising.
Kansas State University researchers asked 123 people to prepare a recipe using either raw ground beef or chicken, along with a ready-to-eat fruit salad. The participants did the food preparation in a kitchen set up on the campus.
A harmless type of bacteria was placed in the raw beef and chicken in order to trace levels of meat-associated contamination spread during meal preparation.
"First, participants were observed frequently handling towels, including paper towels, even when not using them for drying. Towels were determined to be the most contaminated of all the contact surfaces tested," lead researcher and food safety specialist Jeannie Sneed said in a university news release.
Many participants touched towels before washing their hands or used them after inadequate washing of their hands, she said. Even after they washed their hands properly, the participants reused the towels and re-contaminated their hands, according to the study in the journal Food Protection Trends.
Sneed advises that you wash the cloth towels after using them while preparing a meal, or use paper towels and throw them away after each use.
Her team found that more than 90 percent of the fruit salads prepared by the participants were contaminated with the tracer bacteria. This shows that if the tracer had been a harmful germ such as salmonella, there was a high risk of foodborne illness.
Four out of five participants also left raw meat contamination on the sink faucet, refrigerator, oven and trash container, the study found.
What can you do prevent cross-contamination during meal preparation? The Minnesota Department of Health offers these tips on their website:
During food preparation:
· Wash hands and surfaces often. Harmful bacteria can spread throughout the kitchen and get onto cutting boards, utensils, and counter tops. To prevent this:
· Wash hands with soap and hot water before and after handling food, and after using the bathroom, changing diapers; or handling pets.
· Use hot, soapy water and paper towels or clean cloths to wipe up kitchen surfaces or spills.
· Wash kitchen towels often in the hot cycle of your washing machine.
· Wash cutting boards, dishes, and counter tops with hot, soapy water after preparing each food item and before you go on to the next item.
· Always use a clean cutting board.
· If possible, use one cutting board for fresh produce and a separate one for raw meat, poultry, and seafood.
· Once cutting boards become excessively worn or develop hard-to-clean grooves, you should replace them.
Cellphones are another potential source of kitchen cross-contamination, the researchers found. Moreover, many participants used cellphones during meal preparation and didn't clean them properly.
"We often take our cellphones and tablets into the kitchen," Sneed said, "but what about all the other places we take them? Think of how many times you see someone talking on their cellphone in places like the bathroom, where microorganisms such as norovirus and E. coli are commonly found."
If these devices are used in the kitchen, Sneed recommended wiping their surfaces with a disinfectant.
I’ve certainly been guilty of using my cell phone and computer while cooking. With so many recipes just a click away, I’ve been back and forth between the ingredients and the computer countless times. I do clean the keyboard with a disinfectant when I remember – which honestly, isn’t every time.
The study is a good reminder to stay on top of cross-contamination while preparing foods. I’m not sure that there is a way to prepare meats and poultry where every bit of bacteria is removed from preparation surfaces and our hands, but we all can be more aware of cross-contamination and take the extra steps to prevent foodborne illnesses. And don’t forget to wipe down those electronics either!
Sources: Robert Preidt, http://www.webmd.com/food-recipes/20150326/kitchen-towels-can-make-you-sick