Kitchen cutting boards are easily contaminated with germs from foods that are lurking to create health problems, particularly drug resistant E. coli bacteria from poultry preparation, according to studies. This confirms what many germophobes have feared, that kitchen cutting boards can be dangerous deadly places if not probably cared for.
Researchers have shown that hands and cutting boards should be thoroughly washed, particularly after coming into contact with raw poultry, to avoid transmitting drug resistant germs, such as E. coli. The latest study of household and hospital kitchens was published in the May issue of Infection Control and Hospital Epidemiology, which is the journal of the American Society for Healthcare Epidemiology.
Researchers from the University Hospital in Basel, Switzerland, examined nearly 300 cutting boards (154 from the hospital and 144 used in private homes) after different meats (such as poultry, beef, pork, lamb and fish) were prepared and before clean up began. They also tested 20 pairs of kitchen gloves from staff who handled raw poultry. The samples were examined to determine if any ESBL-producing Enterobacteriaceae, a gram-negative bacteria family that includes Salmonella, E. coli and Klebsiella, was present.
The researchers found that 6.5 percent of the hospital kitchen cutting boards used for poultry preparation were contaminated with drug-resistant germs from foods. Of the cutting boards from households, 3.5 percent had the bacteria present. The study also found drug-resistant E. coli. contamination on 50 percent of the hospital kitchen gloves.
While poultry foods are already associated with a high risk of food poisoning, the researchers also found spinach and other leafy greens to be sources of the disease. In addition, the researchers found that none of the cutting boards used to prepare other types of meats were contaminated with ESBL-producing bacteria. They also found that the meat’s country of origin was not a factor on whether there was a bacterial presence found.
How can professional and home cooks protect against bacterial infections? Cooks should be particularly vigilant when preparing poultry, which can easily be carrying the antibiotic-resistant bacteria E. coli. “These findings suggest that transmission of drug-resistant E. coli occurs both in the hospital and households,” according to Andreas Widmer, MD, the lead author of the cutting board study. He noted that their findings emphasize the importance of hand hygiene, both after handling raw poultry, and after contacting any cutting boards used in poultry preparation.
Protective Measures to Take
Wondering about the best cutting board types to use to avoid a food-related illness? It is best to use plastic or acrylic cutting boards. Wood is porous and the fissures can harbor bacteria, which is why wood cutting boards are not allowed in commercial kitchens. Nonporous cutting board surfaces, like plastic or glass, are easier to clean so they are better at protecting from food poisoning. However, glass cutting boards are not recommended since they are tough on knives and easily broken.
Some cooks use separate cutting boards for different types of foods. This prevents bacteria on a cutting board used for raw meat to contaminate other foods, particularly those that are ready to eat like salad fixings.
How can one effectively sanitize cutting boards? The dishwasher is a great sanitization tool for acrylic or plastic cutting boards. Otherwise, wash with hot, soapy water after each use and rinse with clear water before air-drying (so towels do not get contaminated, too). Wooden boards warp or crack in a dishwasher. So, wooden kitchen cutting boards need to be cleaned and sanitized regularly with hydrogen peroxide, lemon and/or vinegar to eliminate any drug-resistant germs they may have been contaminated with from foods.
By Dyanne Weiss