Preparing one meal can contaminate 90 per cent of surfaces touched - study

Global hygiene study finds lack of awareness about food hygiene

TORONTO, June 20, 2012 /CNW/ - The preparation of one simple meal can contaminate up to 90 per cent of kitchen surfaces touched, which may create foodborne illness, according to a new study. In an effort to raise awareness about the level of cross-contamination that occurs from raw food, and how to prevent it, the Global Hygiene Council today announced findings from the 2012 Lysol Cross-Contamination Study.

In the study, volunteers were asked to prepare a chicken stir-fry, fresh green salad, and packed kids' lunch. Results showed significant cross-contamination in the kitchen, which spread to other hand-contact surfaces, kitchen towels, cloths and sponges.

"The kitchen is a bacteria hotspot and proper food storage and hygiene during food preparation and cooking are very important for preventing foodborne illness," says Dr. Donald Low, microbiologist-in-chief at Mount Sinai Hospital in Toronto and Canadian member of the Hygiene Council. "There are an estimated 11 million cases of foodborne illness in Canada every year. Although most people fully recover, foodborne illness can cause serious health complications, and sometimes death, in children, the elderly and those with weakened immune systems."

Hands are a major culprit for spreading germs

Overall, hand hygiene was seen to be relatively poor. Volunteers were more likely to simply rinse their hands after touching raw chicken or vegetables than wash them with soap, even when it was provided. Just one participant in the study washed their hands with soap every time they touched raw chicken; and only two of the six participants washed their hands with soap before filling a child's cup with water after touching raw chicken.

As a result, bacteria was found on the toddler's cup in 33 per cent of cases, and the faucet was contaminated in 86 per cent of cases.

Raw vegetables - a threat that often goes unnoticed

It is fairly common knowledge that raw chicken and other raw meats can carry harmful bacteria, but study results show that many people do not realize that raw veggies can as well, as evidenced by a deadly E. coli outbreak in Europe last summer from raw, unwashed vegetables.

None of the study participants washed their hands after touching raw vegetables, nor did they wash all of the salad items before eating them. When switching tasks, volunteers failed to use separate knives for preparing meat, vegetables, salad, and sandwiches. Consequently, chopping boards and knives were found to be contaminated in 92 per cent of cases.

Danger is lurking inside your sponge - don't double wipe

Items especially heavily contaminated were the kitchen towels, cloths and sponges. Participants used these to wipe their hands after touching raw chicken and vegetables, and then again to wipe hands and surfaces, and even to dry grapes. Through these actions, they spread bacteria around the kitchen onto ready-to-eat foods and into kids' lunchboxes.

"Bacteria such as E.coli have been a major cause of recent food associated outbreaks," says Professor John Oxford, chairman of the Hygiene Council and professor of virology Queen Mary College, University of London. "However, simple hygiene measures can protect you and your family from infection. Washing your hands with soap after touching raw meat and vegetables is vital, as is disinfecting food and hand-contact surfaces, such as cutting boards and fridge door handles."

Banish bacteria from your home

In a second study, comparing the effect of good and poor hygiene practices, foods were deliberately contaminated with an easily-detectable bacteria and tasks were carried out by an environmental health practitioner. When standard good hygiene practices were followed, cross-contamination was reduced from 90 per cent of sites to 16 per cent of sites touched.

"We applaud the Hygiene Council for raising awareness about the risks of foodborne illness and helping to protect Canadian families from the threat of infection," says Erica Di Ruggiero, chair of the Canadian Public Health Association (CPHA). "Simple precautions can go a long way in eliminating the risk of cross contamination."

The Hygiene Council offers the following tips to protect against harmful bacteria and cross contamination:

Hand hygiene

  • Wash hands thoroughly using soap, hot water, and clean towels after each stage of food preparation and before eating. Simply rinsing hands under the faucet is not effective.
  • Automatic soap and liquid cleaner dispensers (no touch) reduce the spread of contamination from hands to the soap dispenser bottle.

Surface hygiene

  • Clean and disinfect food preparation areas prior to contact with food and immediately after contact with any raw food (e.g., poultry, meat, fish, eggs, vegetables).
  • Hand-contact sites, including faucet handles, condiment jars and garbage can lids should be sanitized. Consider using antibacterial wipes or antibacterial sanitizer with paper towels for cleaning high risk surfaces.
  • Kitchen towels, cleaning cloths and sponges used for cleaning up after handling raw meat, poultry, and vegetables, should be disinfected, washed in a hot wash (greater than 60 degrees Celsius) or disposed of after use.
  • Refrigerators and sinks are at a high risk of contamination and should be cleaned and disinfected regularly.

Food preparation

  • Cut meat and vegetables with separate knives and cutting boards.
  • Soak, scrape, brush, scald, or wash all fruit, salad and vegetables.
  • Do not wash raw meat in the sink prior to cooking as this spreads germs around the sink area. Washing raw meat is unnecessary as proper cooking will destroy harmful bacteria.


  • Always cook all poultry, pork, and ground beef thoroughly above 75 degrees Celsius.
  • Don't leave cooked food sitting at room temperature for longer than two hours.
  • Reheat and re-serve leftovers only once.

About the study
The Hygiene Council Cross-Contamination Study was conducted to assess the level of cross-contamination that occurs from raw foods in the kitchen during a variety of every day food preparation and storage tasks. There were three elements to the study:

  • Volunteer study (microbiology): Six volunteers carried out a series of kitchen tasks  and microbiological analysis was conducted on the surfaces/objects they touched to detect bacterial contamination
  • Volunteer study (observational): The same volunteers were observed and filmed. They were assessed against a number of hygiene behaviours to determine whether they used good or poor hygiene practices
  • Marker study: The same tasks as in the Volunteer Study were carried out by an environmental health practitioner (EHP). The study used foods deliberately contaminated with Serratia rubidaea, an easily detectable bacterium, to clearly show the potential spread of contamination and to compare the level of contamination caused when good or bad hygiene practices were used

About The Hygiene Council
The Hygiene Council is an initiative bringing together leading global experts in the field of microbiology, virology, infectious diseases, immunology, and public health to formulate realistic and practical recommendations on simple hygiene measures to help the public improve levels of hygiene in the home and community and, in turn, help to prevent the spread of all kinds of infections.  The Hygiene Council is supported by an unrestricted educational grant from Reckitt Benckiser. For further information, please visit the Hygiene Council website at

About Reckitt Benckiser
Reckitt Benckiser is a leading international consumer products company in the health and personal care, condiment and household categories. The company manufactures and markets world-class products, including: LYSOL®, CLEARASIL®, STREPSILS®, VEET®, FRENCH'S® Mustard and many other consumer-preferred brands. Reckitt Benckiser (Canada) Inc. is headquartered in Mississauga, Ontario.

SOURCE Hygiene Council

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For more information or to speak to Dr. Low, please contact:

Michelle MacLeod
Hill + Knowlton Strategies

Alda Lo
Hill + Knowlton Strategies

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