How to Avoid Cross-Contamination to Keep Your Food Safe
But other things—like raw meat and cooked foods—absolutely do not!
That’s why one of our favorite sayings at Stop Foodborne Illness is this:
SEPARATE, DON’T CROSS-CONTAMINATE
This food safety best practice is one of THE most important for preventing foodborne illness. In a nutshell, cross-contamination is the physical movement or transfer of bacteria from one person, object, food, or place to another. As it relates to food, raw meat, poultry, seafood, and eggs can be a potent source of harmful bacteria. So, these kinds of raw foods need to always be kept SEPARATE from cooked or ready-to-eat foods.
Now, let’s get down to brass tacks and take a look at exactly when you need to be mindful about making sure you don’t cross-contaminate:
WHEN YOU’RE SHOPPING:
- Keep raw meat, poultry, seafood, and eggs separate from other foods in your cart (tip: put them in plastic bags while in your cart).
- At check out, keep raw foods separate by placing them in plastic bags that don’t have other foods.
WHEN YOU’RE REFRIGERATING FOOD:
- Store raw and prepared foods in separate containers to avoid contact.
- Put raw meat, poultry, seafood and eggs in containers or tightly-sealed plastic bags to prevent their juices from dripping on other foods.
- Store eggs in their original carton in the main section of your fridge (not the door) and refrigerate as soon as possible to ensure a cool, consistent temperature.
- Allow for proper air circulation in the fridge—don’t pack it too tightly.
WHEN YOU’RE PREPARING FOOD:
- Wash hands and surfaces often.
- Use one cutting board for fresh produce and a separate one for raw meat, poultry, and seafood.
- Use separate, clean plates—one for raw food and one for cooked food.
- Wash cutting boards, dishes, utensils, and counter tops with warm, soapy water after preparing each food item.
- Replace excessively-worn cutting boards that have deep, hard-to-clean grooves.
WHEN YOU’RE PREPARING FRUITS + VEGETABLES:
- Always wash produce before eating—even if you plan to peel or slice it.
- Rinse fresh fruits and veggies in running tap water to remove visible dirt/grime (even fruits like cantaloupe and avocado).
- Scrub firm produce with a clean veggie brush.
- Remove and throw away the outermost layer of leaves of a head of lettuce or cabbage.
- Don’t leave cut produce at room temperature for longer than one hour.
WHEN YOU’RE MARINATING FOOD:
- Always marinate food in the fridge—not on the counter.
- Sauce used to marinate raw meat, poultry, or seafood should NOT be used on cooked foods.
- When whipping up your marinade, set some aside to use later on your cooked foods.
WHEN YOU’RE SERVING COOKED FOOD:
- Always use a clean plate.
- Never put cooked food on the same plate/cutting board that previously held raw food.
RESOURCES (from USDA Food Safety and Inspection Service):