Cross-contamination, a ghost in the kitchen?
There is an invisible presence threatening diners in every home, a ghost that is settled in the kitchen and only those who are very sensitive can detect it. We are talking about cross-contamination, and even if it seems like a Halloween joke, its consequences can seriously affect the health of every member of the family at home.
Cross-contamination is the contamination that affects different foods when they come in contact with each other, either directly or indirectly. The severity of its implications depends on how healthy the consumer is and how the food was preserved.
A raw monster?
The most classic form of cross-contamination takes place when raw food comes in contact with cooked food. Bacteria and pathogens that are present in meat or vegetables contaminate foods that have already been processed and if they are in temperate climates. An example could be mixing chicken that’s already boiled –and “clean of bacteria”- with a lettuce contaminated by amoebas in a very “healthy” salad. Or the dripping of blood from raw meat on food that’s already cooked or sterilized and ready for consumption.
To avoid this direct contamination, it’s recommended to keep raw meat, poultry, and fish in sealed containers that prevent leakage of liquids, preferably in a specific area of the refrigerator where they don’t come in contact with other foods. The recommendation is to store fruits and vegetables already washed and disinfected and avoid eating food of dubious preparation or origin.
What about the invisible ones?
As it turns out, it’s not all that clear. Cross-contamination can also be indirect when a utensil or surface has been contaminated by food and spreads bacteria -or infection in this case- to other foods we eat.
A poorly washed (or unwashed) chopping board, a spoon that has been used in multiple preparations or even tested by the cook, a table on which blood from meat was spilled and not properly disinfected, these are the monsters that can star in a horror movie.
The solution? Once again, cleaning. Using hot water to wash surfaces, implements, and containers, washing your hands frequently during preparations and using vinegar, lemon, and disinfectants on surfaces to prevent possible nightmares.
But there is one more element on the list that sometimes goes unnoticed: allergens. Cross-contamination also takes place when a user is prone to contact with an allergen against his or her will. For example, when a spoon is used to consume calamari soup and another dish that will be consumed by someone allergic to seafood, this can be a calamity that will only affect the person who suffers from the allergy.
In either case, nightmares can be avoided with a little cleaning, common sense, and isolation of raw foods from those already prepared.