How To Prevent Cross-contamination

Reviewed by Eleese Cunningham, RDN
raw vegetables separate from raw meat

March is National Nutrition Month, when the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics reminds everyone to return to the basics of healthy eating. It is also the time of year when the Academy celebrates expertise of registered dietitian nutritionists as the food and nutrition experts.

It's common knowledge that eating raw meat can make you sick, but you may still be at risk for food poisoning if you don't properly separate your foods to prevent cross-contamination.

Cross-contamination is how bacteria can spread. It occurs when juices from raw meats or germs from unclean objects touch cooked or ready-to-eat foods. By following a few simple steps as you handle, store, shop and cook foods, you can greatly reduce your risk of food poisoning.

At the grocery store, separate fresh or frozen, raw meat, poultry, seafood and eggs from produce and ready-to-eat foods in your shopping cart and grocery bags.

  • If you are using reusable grocery totes to transport groceries, place meat, poultry and seafood in plastic bags to prevent juices from leaking.
  • Place groceries in the back seat instead of the trunk of a vehicle.

When storing food, refrigerate or freeze groceries within two hours.

  • Keep raw meat, poultry and seafood on bottom shelf of refrigerator in a sealed container or plastic bag to ensure juices don’t drip onto ready-to-eat foods and cause contamination.
  • Keep eggs in original carton and store on shelves of refrigerator — not in the door.
  • Store reusable totes in a clean, dry location and wash frequently with hot, soapy water or in the washing machine. Avoid leaving reusable totes in the trunk of a vehicle.

Special precautions should be taken when preparing food. Wash hands thoroughly with warm, soapy water for 20 seconds before, during and after handling raw meats and foods.

  • Wash plates between uses or use separate plates: one for holding raw meat, poultry or seafood and another for cooked foods.
  • Place washed produce into clean storage containers, not back into the original ones.
  • Be aware of the tools used during cooking — never use the same knife for raw meat, poultry or seafood to chop produce or ready-to-eat foods.
  • Use one cutting board for meat, poultry and seafood, and a separate cutting board for produce and ready-to-eat foods.

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