What cross-contamination is and what it means for the average person

Cross-contamination is one of the leading causes of food-borne illnesses in North America. While the meaning of the term may not be initially apparent, it is quite simply the transferring of contamination from one surface to another. In this post we want to go over how to prevent cross-contamination in your home or workplace.

With the advent of the COVID-19 Pandemic, the need for proper hand hygiene has become more apparent in every situation. Preventing recontamination after washing hands is key to maintaining good hand hygiene and regardless of where you are, the steps for preventing cross-contamination are the same.

Where cross-contamination is expected

Most people intuitively know that cross-contamination happens at the faucet and the door handle to a washroom. This is easy because we are all aware that we need to wash our hands before and after handling food as well as after going to the washroom. We are intuitively aware that the faucet handle has been touched by unwashed hands, either ours or those of other people. Door handles into and out of washrooms are also suspect as we all know – gross as it is – that many people forget or neglect to wash their hands after using the facilities.

In these areas we may KNOW that cross contamination is a high possibility, but how do we go about controlling for it?

Kitchen faucet

Our own kitchen faucets are a major cause for food poisoning, particularly when we are working with raw meat. There are a number of ways to reduce the chances of cross-contamination, each with their strengths and drawbacks.

Preventing contamination at the faucet

Paper towel

The simplest way to prevent cross contamination at the kitchen faucet is to use a towel of some sort to shut off the faucet after using it. It is important to note that the towel itself is subject to cross-contamination if it has not been washed or replaced between uses.

Using faucet handle with paper towel

Another way to help prevent cross-contamination from food is to use food-grade gloves when handling raw food. While using gloves may seem simple, it is important to understand how to prevent contamination when removing them. The CDC has a simple and great tutorial on how to remove (doff) gloves properly.

Gloves become tedious and wasteful in the average home as they are typically single-use and cannot be reused. They are typically better suited to commercial kitchens where the user is often preparing large quantities of food prior to washing up between tasks.

Washing the faucet

It has also been suggested that a person should wash their hands and leave a surplus of water and soap to wash the handle prior to shutting off the flow. This is better than not trying any preventative measures to begin with, but can lead to soap scum buildup on the faucet handle. It may also breed more bacteria in areas that are hard to clean since a moist environment is ideal for bacterial growth.

Hands-free faucets help reduce cross-contamination

All of the above methods can be effective in reducing the risk of cross-contamination but can contribute to waste. Single-use items like paper towel and gloves not only waste material but also money. Using excess water to prevent touching the faucet is also wasteful.

There are many hands-free solutions on the market including our own Tapmaster line of products. Regardless of the hands-free solution you choose they all make it easier to prevent cross-contamination. Hands-free faucets also eliminate the material and water waste of gloves and towels. They also make it easy to activate the water flow without touching the faucet. This makes it possible to use the water for shorter intervals saving water and keeping faucets clean. Eliminating the need to the faucet handle before and after washing your hands significantly reduces the chance of contamination.

Other common, but less intuitive areas where cross-contamination can occur

Other surfaces that are common vectors for contamination include:

  • Light switches; light switches are some of the worst surfaces for contamination as they are infrequently cleaned and frequently used.
  • Door handles; like light switches, door handles are often used without thought and are often rarely cleaned.
  • Towels and washcloths; towels are breeding grounds for bacteria. Any small amount of bacteria that is transferred to them has a tendency to grow and multiply over time.
  • Kitchen sponges; these little bacterial farms are often the single most filthy thing in a kitchen. Keep them clean or get rid of them!

While it is nearly impossible to prevent any form of cross-contamination, risks can be severely mitigated by frequent handwashing. The amount of contamination transfer from any surface to your hands and back is small, but it builds over time. Frequent handwashing keeps the viral or bacterial count low enough that they won’t cause a problem.

If you have any other suggestions or comments, please don’t hesitate to send us a message through our contact page or via Twitter or Facebook! We love interacting with our customers and the general public to promote sustainable and effective hand-hygiene practices.