Cross contact is a severe risk for those suffering from food allergies. This blog will cover tips and advice on how to prevent cross contact in home food preparation.
While the number of people diagnosed with a food allergy increases, many steps can be taken to prevent cross contact and avoid potential exposure.
Food allergies affect approximately 15 million U.S. children and adults, including as many as 6 million children under 18 years. Despite these staggering numbers, it is estimated that less than 20% of those with food allergies and their caregivers have carefully assessed the risk associated with cross contact in their homes.
This blog will explain how to prevent cross contact during food handling. We’ll answer the following questions: What is cross contact, and why do I need to avoid it? What are the most common ways cross contact happens? How to prevent cross contact?
What is cross contact, and why do I need to prevent it?
Cross-contact is the technical term for when a food allergen is accidentally transferred from one food to another. It’s when gluten gets into a dish that’s supposed to be gluten-free or when a peanut spreads from one cookie to another.
Examples of cross contact include:
- Bread is cut with a knife, then peanut butter is spread on it.
- Gluten-free cookies baked in an oven that previously had bread in it.
- If a recipe calls for gluten-free flour and regular flour, both flours should be measured separately instead of directly from the same container.
- Allergens like peanuts, eggs or dairy are also common causes of cross-contamination at restaurants. For example, suppose you use the same cutting board for vegetables and chicken without washing the board between uses. In that case, the chicken juice may contaminate the vegetables, causing an allergic reaction to your health.
What are the most common ways cross contact happens?
Cross contact is when one food touches another food, which can happen in many different ways. It’s most commonly known why we shouldn’t use a cutting board for raw meat and then use that same cutting board for ready-to-eat foods (e.g., fresh fruits and vegetables) without washing it in between.
Other ways cross contamination can happen, though, include:
- Through shared cooking equipment: A spoon used to stir a jar of peanut butter could contaminate a pot of soup with peanuts.
- During preparation: If you sprinkle cheese on your pizza and then use the same grater for Parmesan, the grated cheese will contain traces of dairy.
- Not cleaning hands between handling cross contact foods. Foodborne illness can spread from one food to another if hands aren’t washed properly before and after handling different types of food — incredibly raw animal proteins.
- It is not using separate cutting boards for meats, poultry and seafood. Raw fish, in particular, can leave harmful bacteria on a cutting board that’s difficult to remove entirely with washing alone. That’s why it’s essential to have separate cutting boards for raw fish and other foods.
- You put cooked food back on the same plate or cutting board that held raw meat, poultry, seafood or eggs. It may seem convenient to use the exact container or serving platter for raw and cooked animal products without washing in between, but this is a big no-no. If you’re prepping food on a cutting board or using serving utensils, wash them before using them with cooked foods.
Using the same platter or bowl for cooked and raw animal products, cross contamination may also occur if utensils such as spatulas, tongs and knives are used for handling both cooked/prepared and uncooked/unprepared foods.
Cross-contact is why it’s often said that avoiding cross-contact is just as important as eliminating exposure. Fortunately, there are plenty of ways to avoid cross-contamination, but first, it helps to get an idea of how big an issue cross-contamination is for people with food allergies or celiac disease.
How to prevent cross contact?
When you’re avoiding food allergens, one of the most critical steps to prevent cross-contact. If you’re cooking a meal at home and want to ensure that cross contact – defined by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) as the unintentional incorporation of a food allergen into another food – doesn’t occur, it’s a good idea to take the following precaution. It happens when a chef cooks gluten-free food on the same grill as gluten-containing food or when a baker uses the same utensils for bread and cookies.
If you have a family member with celiac disease or non-celiac gluten sensitivity, cross-contact is something you need to talk about.
Here are some tips for preventing cross-contact in your home:
- Thoroughly clean all cooking equipment, surfaces, and utensils with soap and hot water after preparing each item and before starting another one.
- Use separate preparation areas for each item. For example, have one cutting board for preparing meat dishes and another for everything else. If you have only one cutting board, thoroughly wash it between cutting different types of foods. Use paper towels to wipe up crumbs and other food particles to avoid spreading allergens during cleaning.
- Wash hands, utensils, and surfaces often. Cleaning your hands, knives, and surfaces prevents the spread of allergens around the kitchen. Wash hands for at least 20 seconds in hot, soapy water before and after handling foods.
- Prepare allergen-free items first. Prepare allergen-free items first to avoid accidental cross-contact from utensils or surfaces previously used with other foods. For example: Prepare fresh vegetables first before using the same cutting board to cut raw chicken breast.
- A separate cutting board should be used for raw meat, poultry, and seafood.
- Never place cooked food on a plate that previously held raw food without washing it first.
- If you don’t have two cutting boards, wash the cutting board thoroughly with soap and hot water between the preparations of each food item.
- Store food in clearly labelled containers with the name of the food and the date it was made visible on the outside of the container.
Every individual and family needs to take an active role in preventing accidental exposures. You can reduce or eliminate the risk of exposure by planning and following a food allergy action plan. Safely preparing your child’s food, and practicing avoidance strategies at home, in schools and in other food service establishments. With extra care and effort, you can protect yourself and your loved ones from cross contact in your home. No more worrying about accidentally contaminating others’ meals. Happy cooking!