Adam Ghering is a public affairs specialist with the Food Safety and Inspection Service at the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
Most people would say that they can tell pretty quickly what is clean and what is dirty. If you see stains on your pants, you know that your pants are dirty. However, seeing whether bacteria is on your food is an entirely different story. All foodborne bacteria are microscopic and can’t be seen with the naked eye, so it is difficult to know if your foods have been cross-contaminated. Bacteria may come into contact with our foods from other foods, contaminated cooking equipment, utensils, and even our hands. According to the 2016 U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) Food Safety Survey, Americans are doing well to prevent cross-contamination from some common sources, but not all.
For example, 85% of respondents in the survey said they wash their hands after handling raw meat. Ninety percent of respondents said they wash their cutting board, or get a different one, after the cutting board has touched raw meats. Eighty-one percent of participants said they use a different plate than the one that held raw meats to carry cooked items from the grill. This is good news.
However, there are other common things to think about in this area of food safety. Here are 2 things you may touch that can also transfer harmful bacteria.
1. Your phone
Do you ever use your phone while preparing or eating food? Phones and other devices go everywhere with us now, including the ballpark, our gardens, the bathroom… and out to the grill or in the kitchen. During these travels, our phones can pick up bacteria. In the FDA survey, 40% of the respondents reported that they used a telephone, smartphone, or laptop while cooking but did not wash their hands after touching their device and continued to cook.
Washing your hands after touching any potentially contaminated surface, such as your phone or laptop, is an easy way to prevent illness. Always wash your hands for 20 seconds with soap and warm water. Focus on scrubbing your palms, between your fingers, and underneath your fingertips; then rinse your hands thoroughly. Our hands are great tools for creating healthy and delicious meals. Let’s make sure they don’t also transfer bacteria onto our foods. After you’re done, make sure to clean off your device, too.
2. Peels and skins of fruits and vegetables
Other items that people may not clean, but should, are fruits and vegetables. Bacteria can be transferred from the outside of the fruit or vegetable during peeling or slicing. Even if you plan to peel or slice your fruit and vegetables, wash them beforehand with cold running water. If the fruit or vegetable has a firm surface, such as apples or potatoes, the surface can be gently scrubbed with a brush.
Need more food safety information? Call the USDA Meat & Poultry Hotline at 1-888-MPHOTLINE (1-888-674-6854). You can also submit a question or chat live with a USDA food safety specialist at AskKaren.gov, Monday through Friday, in English or Spanish.