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Preventing cross-contamination of food in the kitchen

When people are eating food at your organization, they take it for granted that you are practicing food safety management. That includes preventing cross-contamination, cooking foods to a safe temperature and storing your food safely.


Is their trust well-placed? Are you taking the proper steps to prevent cross-contamination and keep them from getting sick because of the food you serve? Here, Church Mutual takes a look at important food safety practices, and what steps you should be taking.


How to prevent cross-contamination in food

Cross-contamination occurs when harmful bacteria spreads from food to food through the use of cutting boards and utensils. It’s a particular concern with raw meat, eggs, poultry and seafood, all of which have juices that could contaminate other foods.


Tips to avoid cross-contamination

According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Food Safety and Inspection Service, to prevent cross-contamination, you should:

  1. Wash your hands with soap and water for 20 seconds before handling food. Hand washing and food safety go hand in hand!

  2. Wash kitchen surfaces with soap and water before placing food on them. Make sure you thoroughly rinse and dry all surfaces after washing to remove any traces of soap.

  3. Use separate cutting boards and utensils for all of your foods whenever possible.

  4. Cook foods to a safe temperature. Undercooked meat can lead to Salmonella, E. coli, norovirus and Listeria. Always check temperatures with a meat thermometer to ensure the meat is cooked all the way through. Use this minimum cooking temperatures guide to ensure the meat you serve is safe to eat.

  5. Refrain from reusing packaging that was used for raw meat or poultry to store other food items.

Fruits and vegetables cross-contamination safety

Meat isn’t the only type of food that can introduce bacteria into your kitchen—fruits and vegetables, too, can cause problems if you aren’t careful.


When cooking and preparing fruits and vegetables, follow these guidelines:

  • Throw away the outermost layer on heads of lettuce and cabbage. This is the most likely layer to have had contact with a variety of different surfaces—any of which could have harmful bacteria.

  • Avoid leaving cut produce at room temperature for many hours. Bacteria can grow on the cut surface of fruits and vegetables, which means they need to be refrigerated soon after cutting.

  • Rinse all fruits and vegetables before using them—even if the packaging says they have already been rinsed. You can never be sure what they touched before they came into your facility, and you want to wash away all harmful bacteria.

Which storage practice could cause cross-contamination?

Not only do you run the risk of cross-contaminating food when you’re in the middle of cooking and serving, but you could also unwittingly be storing food items incorrectly. This means that everyone in your organization who gets near the kitchen and pantry needs to know best practices for avoiding illness.


Storage practice tips

Some of the most important storage practices you should use include:

  • Covering raw food (such as meat) and keeping it separate from ready-to-eat food in the refrigerator.

  • Using dishes that have a tightly fitting lid, so that juices from meats and eggs do not spill over into other food.

  • Storing raw meat, shellfish, poultry and fish on the bottom shelf of your refrigerator, so you’re not in any danger of stray juices dripping onto lower shelves.


Avoid the food temperature danger zone

Bacteria grow most rapidly when food is between 40 and 140 Fahrenheit, doubling in as little as 20 minutes. To avoid bacteria growth, never leave cold foods out of refrigeration for more than two hours, and warm and stir hot food at regular intervals. 


Develop a food safety plan

Not only should you be practicing food safety, but you should be documenting it, too. Create a written plan that you display prominently in your kitchen, highlighting the steps staff members and volunteers should take to avoid cross-contamination.


It’s important that you partner with an insurance agency that offers comprehensive coverage for food-related liability and other issues. You also should have an insurance company that offers risk management information, so that you can avoid incidents as much as possible.


For more safety resources, visit Church Mutual’s website.