Food scientists conduct major collaborative study on consumer behavior, surprised by results – ScienceDaily

A government-funded study into the potential for cross-contamination of kitchen surfaces with pathogens during food preparation has pointed to an unlikely culprit for spreading disease: spice containers.

Detailed findings in the Food Protection Journal, Donald Schaffner, a distinguished professor in the Department of Food Science at Rutgers School of Environmental and Biological Sciences, who co-authored the study in collaboration with colleagues at North Carolina State University, concluded that when preparing meals, consumers easily can become spice containers Cross-contamination with harmful microorganisms. Cross-contamination is the process by which microbes are transferred from one substance or object to another, often with harmful effects.

The study was commissioned by the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) Food Safety and Inspection Service.

“In addition to more obvious surfaces like cutting boards, trash can lids and refrigerator handles, there’s something else to look out for when trying to be clean and hygienic in your kitchen,” Schaffner said. “Our research shows that any condiment container you touch when preparing raw meat can become cross-contaminated. You should be aware of this during or after preparing meals.”

Foodborne illnesses such as non-typhoid salmonella and campylobacter responsible for nearly 2 million infections per year in the United States, according to studies by the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). According to the Interagency Food Safety Analytics Collaboration, a group founded in 2011 by the CDC, the USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection, a significant portion of these diseases originate from USDA-regulated food products, including chicken, turkey, beef, pork, and venison Service and the US Food and Drug Administration. Scientists believe that proper food handling — including proper cooking, consistent hand washing, and sanitizing kitchen surfaces and utensils — can combat cross-contamination.

“The purpose of this study was to determine the prevalence and level of cross-contamination on a variety of kitchen surfaces during a consumer meal prep event,” said Schaffner, who is also a food science extension specialist at Rutgers Agricultural Experiment Station.

The researchers observed the behavior of 371 adults who prepared an identical turkey burger recipe in multiple kitchens of different sizes, from small apartment-style kitchens to larger teaching kitchens, at advice centers and food banks. Participants prepared a meal consisting of raw ground turkey pies with a spice recipe and a pre-packaged salad. To simulate the movement of a pathogen through a kitchen, the researchers pre-inoculated the meat with a bacteriophage called “MS2,” which served as a safe tracer. Bacteriophages are viruses that infect bacteria and have no effect on humans.

Participants were only informed after the meal was prepared that the researchers would be examining their food safety behaviors. After the meal was prepared, the researchers wiped down kitchen utensils, cleaning areas, and kitchen surfaces to test for the presence of the MS2 tracer. Based on observations of the participants’ behavior during cooking, the researchers decided to sample some new categories of surfaces, such as spice containers and faucet handles.

Researchers found that the most commonly contaminated objects were condiment containers, with about 48 percent of samples showing evidence of MS2 contamination. This contamination prevalence differed significantly from many other sampled surfaces. Cutting boards and trash can lids were the second and third most contaminated. Faucet handles were the least contaminated objects examined.

“We were surprised because we hadn’t previously seen evidence of contamination from spice containers,” Schaffner said. “Most research on cross-contamination of kitchen surfaces from handling raw meat or poultry products has focused on kitchen cutting boards or faucet handles and neglected surfaces such as condiment containers, trash can lids and other kitchen utensils. This makes this study, and similar studies by members of this group, more comprehensive than previous studies.”

Researchers involved included Benjamin Chapman, Professor and Department Head of Agricultural and Human Sciences, and Lee-Ann Jaykus, William Neal Reynolds Distinguished Professor of Food, Bioprocessing and Nutrition Sciences, Margaret Kirchner, Savana Everhart, Lindsey Doring, Caitlin Smits and Jeremy Faircloth, Minh Duong, Rebecca Goulter, Lydia Goodson, Lisa Shelley, and Ellen Thomas Shumaker, all from North Carolina State University; RTI International’s Sheryl Cates; Christopher Bernstein of the Consumer Finance Protection Bureau; and Aaron Lavallee of the US Department of Agriculture.

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Materials provided by Rutgers University. Originally written by Kitta Macpherson. Note: Content can be edited for style and length.

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