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What is Cross Contamination?

By Felicia Dye
Updated May 17, 2024
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Cross contamination is a term that refers to instances when microorganisms are transferred from one item to another. It is commonly used to refer to such a transfer between food items. This may be because cross contamination contributes greatly to the incidents of foodborne illnesses. Such a transfer is not truly limited to foods, however.

Living organisms commonly host bacteria that are natural to them. As a result, there is a risk presented by raw foods that come into contact with other foods. A common misconception about cross contamination and the associated foodborne illnesses is that the situation is limited to raw foods. The truth is that raw foods can also contaminate food that has already been fully prepared.

Cross contamination between raw and cooked foods may seem unlikely. There are, however, many instances when the two can come into contact. Salads and sushi present such a danger because they are often composed of raw and cooked items. Working with cooked and raw foods on the same surfaces also presents this danger.

Foods do not need to come into contact with one another for cross contamination to occur. If contaminated food is exposed to a surface, such as a counter top, other foods that are later exposed to that surface can become contaminated. The same holds true when implements, such as knives or bowls, are used for several foods without being washed.

Humans also perpetuate the problem. This is why so much effort is placed on encouraging people to wash their hands after trips to the restroom and immediately before handling food. Bacteria from contaminated foods can be transferred by way of a person's hands to other foods. Bacteria from other sources can also use the human body as a vehicle to contaminate foods.

Food poisoning is a common consequence of cross contamination. There are numerous symptoms that can be experienced by a person who has consumed contaminated foods. These include vomiting, diarrhea, and asthma. People can develop nutrient deficiencies and experience weight loss.

Preventing cross contamination is often stressed in commercial settings more than in domestic settings. Individuals can benefit from knowing how to keep themselves and their families safe, however. To begin with, hand washing should be strongly encouraged and practiced by everyone.

Sanitation also plays a major role in preventing the transfer of microorganisms. This means properly cleaning preparation areas and equipment after dealing with each type of food. Having numerous cutting boards that are used only for certain types of foods can be helpful. Proper storage is also essential. People should ensure that raw foods and cooked foods are stored separately and closed properly so that blood or juices are not exchanged.

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Discussion Comments

By anon114468 — On Sep 28, 2010

thanks. I needed this for a science project.

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