Here is an Op. Ed. Piece for your consideration. It was inspired by a symposium about food borne illness at the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, which I attended in February, 2000.
The following are some steps to avoid food borne illness that we can carry out in our daily routines. Our family did these things as Peace Corp Volunteers in Afghanistan from 1968 to 1970 with success in avoiding illness. As an example, I will use Salmonella typhimurium, the most prevalent food borne illness in our country today. The same suggestions are effective against less prevalent but more serious illnesses such as E. Coli 0157.
There has been a 40% increase in Salmonella infections in the U.S. in the last 40 years mostly due to infected meat and eggs obtained from commercial sources. Much of this increase is because of raising animals in larger and larger groups and in increasingly crowded conditions. 30-50% of chicken in our country is now infected with Salmonella. Many of the chickens show no evidence of infection during life. Their eggs are frequently infected before laying resulting in chicks infected from hatching. These germs are becoming more and more resistant to antibiotics so that prophylactic treatment of whole flocks does not always succeed. The best antibiotics for treating humans suffering severe illness are best saved for this purpose instead of being used to try to compensate for inferior “housekeeping” in animal husbandry.
Accordingly, raw meat, especially chicken, should be considered contaminated until cooked. Soft-boiled eggs are not sufficiently cooked for this purpose. So the sink, cutting boards, adjacent counter tops, knives, the chef’s hands should be considered contaminated until washed and disinfected with care, thus avoiding contamination of additional items such as the refrigerator door handle; wash hands before touching it after working with raw meat. A dish rag or sponge used for clean up is usually the most heavily contaminated item in the kitchen. Any surface cleaned with such a sponge or dish rag can transfer germs to other foods rendering them dangerous.
To summarize: designate clean and dirty areas in your kitchen, with this distinction carefully respected until all dirty surfaces have been wiped up and disinfected. Do not use the dish rag or sponge on clean items until it is laundered or disinfected. 30 seconds in the microwave might suffice; only 169 degree F, pasteurization temperature, is required. If you use Clorox or other chemical disinfectants, do not exceed the recommended dose to avoid unnecessary toxicity.
Nurses know a lot about maintaining clean and dirty areas in the operating room and have common sense about the rules in the operating room being unnecessarily strict for the kitchen. To clear up whatever you don’t understand of all this, ask such a person.
John A. Frantz, M.D.
Chairman, Board of Health
City of Monroe
March 29, 2000