January 10, 2011

What is cross contamination?

Posted in Cross Contamination, Food Allergy tagged at 8:05 pm by 1ElleofaWoman

Cross contamination is generally defined as the transfer of harmful bacteria from one food to another.  In the allergy world, it is the transfer of an allergen to an otherwise allergen-free food, which, while not harmful to the average person, can be deadly to a person with allergies. It is something that most people don’t consider.

A prime example is jelly in an average person’s home.  Most people will use one knife when making a peanut butter and jelly sandwich.  It is this reason that someone allergic to peanuts should never take jelly from an opened jar; it may be cross contaminated with peanut butter from someone else’s sandwich that was made several weeks ago.

This isn’t on the radar for most people, so it is not unusual for a person not versed in food allergies to insist that a food is safe when it is not.

Cross contamination can happen in a variety of ways:

  • Wooden utensils, stoneware,  sponges and cutting boards may retain traces of an allergen
  • Items that have not been properly cleaned  — utensils, knives and other cutlery, containers, trays, countertops/tabletops,  pots, pans, cookie sheets, grills, spatulas, mixers, serving tongs, blenders, measuring cups, bowls, plates, etc.
  • Parchment paper and baking liners/mats that have been only wiped clean before being reused
  • Re-used oil that has been used to cook or fry other foods that contain an allergen..
  • Improperly cleaned hands – Purell and other hand sanitizers are not acceptable methods of cleaning hands. Liquid soap, bar soap, and commercial wipes are acceptable methods to clean hands.

It is important to note that the cleaning instructions for certain items  advise people not to use soap or clean thoroughly:

  • Stoneware: “Remove excess food with scraper. It is not recommended to use soap, detergent or an automatic dishwasher.”
  • Candy molds:

o   “After you finish making candy, wash your candy molds in warm water and dry thoroughly with a soft cloth. Don’t use soap or detergent
o   “Make sure that you never use soap to clean the molds.

To properly clean utensils, pans, etc., they must be cleaned in hot, soapy water. For table/counter tops, however, dishwashing liquid is not recommended.  Studies have shown that soaps and commercial cleaning agents are effective for cleaning allergen proteins from table tops, while dishwashing liquid alone is not.

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