Fast Facts about Cutting Boards and Food Safety in Your Kitchen (from The Abstract)

Channeling my inner Dean Cliver, I had a chat last week with my friend Matt Shipman about cutting boards and food safety. Matt, a science writer, public information officer at North Carolina State University, curator of The Abstract, and all around swell dude, writes:

Anything that touches your food can be a source of contamination and foodborne illness – including cutting boards.

For example, if you cut up a raw chicken, and then use the same cutting board to slice a tomato for your salad, you run the risk of cross-contamination – with bacteria from the chicken being transferred to the tomato. That, of course, would be bad.

And vegetarians aren’t off the hook either. Fruits and vegetables can also carry pathogens (and transfer them to cutting boards).

To reduce the risk of foodborne illness in your kitchen, here are some things you should know about cutting boards.

Plastic Versus Wood

For a long time, most (if not all) cutting boards were made of wood. But at some point people began using plastic cutting boards. The idea was that they were easier to clean (and sanitize), and therefore were safer.

But in the late 1980s, a UC Davis researcher named Dean Cliver – the de facto godfather of cutting board food safety – decided to investigate whether plastic cutting boards really were safer. Answer: not really.

Photo credit: Betsssssy, via Wikimedia Commons.

Plastic cutting boards, Cliver found, are easier to sanitize. But cutting on them also leaves lots of grooves where bacteria can hide. Wood is tougher to sanitize, but it’s also (often) tougher in general – you won’t find as many deep scratches in the surface.

In addition, researchers have discovered that the type of wood your cutting board is made from also makes a difference.

“Hardwoods, like maple, are fine-grained, and the capillary action of those grains pulls down fluid, trapping the bacteria – which are killed off as the board dries after cleaning,” says Ben Chapman, a food safety researcher at NC State. “Soft woods, like cypress, are less likely to dull the edge of your knife, but also pose a greater food safety risk,” Chapman explains. “That’s because they have larger grains, which allows the wood to split apart more easily, forming grooves where bacteria can thrive.”

Which type of cutting board should you use? Chapman recommends using plastic cutting boards for meat and wood cutting boards for fruit, vegetables, or any ready-to-eat foods (like bread or cheese).

Why use plastic cutting boards for meat? Because of how you wash them.

Cleaning Your Cutting Board

Plastic and wood have different characteristics, so you have to handle them differently.

Plastic cutting boards can be placed in the dishwasher, where they can be sanitized by washing at high temperatures. But wood cutting boards would quickly be ruined by a dishwasher, and not everyone owns a dishwasher. If you’re washing a cutting board by hand, you should:

  • Rinse the debris off the cutting board (being careful not to splatter contaminated water all over the place);
  • Scrub the cutting board with soap and water (to get out anything in the scratches or grooves on the board’s surface); and
  • Sanitize the cutting board (you should use different sanitizers for wood cutting boards than for plastic ones).

For plastic cutting boards, you should use a chlorine-based sanitizer, such as a solution of bleach and water (one tablespoon of bleach per gallon of water – has a shelf life of a week or two). But for wood cutting boards, you should use a quaternary ammonia sanitizer, such as a solution of Mr. Clean and water (follow the dilution instructions on the label).

“This is because chlorine binds very easily to organic materials, like the wood in a cutting board, which neutralizes its antibacterial properties,” Chapman says. “Quaternary ammonia is more effective at killing bacteria on wood or other organic surfaces.”

It’s worth noting that you should also sanitize your kitchen sponge/rag/brush after you’ve used it to scrub the chicken-juice off your cutting board – or else you run the risk of contaminating the next thing you wash (which is the exact opposite of what you’re trying to do).

The last step in cleaning your cutting board is an important one –dry it.

“Make sure you put the cutting board somewhere that air circulates, so that it can dry completely,” Chapman says. Bacteria need moisture to grow, and you don’t want to give them a welcoming environment.

“Historically, butchers used to put salt on their butcher blocks to keep them from smelling bad,” Chapman says. “This worked because the salt drew the moisture out of the wood and prevented bacterial contamination, which is what caused the smell – though the butchers didn’t know it at the time.”

When To Replace Your Cutting Board

At some point, scrubbing and sanitizing might not be enough. When your cutting board has accumulated a lot of deep grooves from repeated use, you probably need to replace it.

“The more grooves it has, and the bigger they are, the more area is available for trapping moisture and giving bacteria a place to proliferate,” Chapman says.

Salmonella at South Korea Asian games? That’s some rapid testing, atheletes’ lunches discarded

Asian Games organizers prevented a potential mass outbreak of food poisoning after salmonella was detected in lunch boxes prepared for athletes, officials said today.

asian_games_2014_330_233_100The bacteria was found yesterday in meat included on boxed meals provided by a food caterer.

A spokesman for the organizing committee told AFP that all 76 lunch boxes prepared by the firm were immediately thrown away.

“It is our policy to dump the entire stock even if one sample is found to have been contaminated,” the spokesman said.

“We’ve decided to replace the food catering company with a different one following the unfortunate event,” he added.

The salmonella was detected by South Korean food safety officials who screen all the athletes’ food that is provided by authorized caterers.

Going public: Salmonella, tomatoes (not) and court

Summer 2008 was adventurous for us: Amy was pregnant, we were in Quebec, and I was handling endless media calls about Salmonella in tomatoes that sickened at least 851 people in the U.S., including a sorta creepy middle-of-the-night chat fest for some radio station.

tomato.outbreakoffdaTurns out it was probably jalapeño peppers.

Tomato growers lost millions and decided to sue the U.S. government for going public prematurely.

Growers and others would be better served if there were clear, publicly available guidelines for when to go public about foodborne illness.

As reported by Michael Doyle of the Fresno Bee, a federal court has rejected the potentially far-reaching claims of Florida tomato growers who say they lost business because of Food and Drug Administration warnings.

The ruling unsettles numerous growers, who collectively lost several hundred million dollars following FDA food safety warnings in 2008 that proved erroneous. The ruling also curtails other growers tempted to base similar challenges on the constitutional requirement that the government pay compensation for taking property.

tomato.sign.jpg“Advisory pronouncements, even those with significant financial impact on the marketplace, are not enough to effect a taking of property under the Fifth Amendment,” U.S. Court of Federal Claims Senior Judge Lynn J. Bush stated.

In a 13-page decision quietly issued Thursday, Bush concluded that “although a wide range of government actions may give rise to regulatory takings,” these actions do not extend to “press releases and consumer advisories, by themselves.”

The Tallahassee, Fla.-based attorney representing the growers, M. Stephen Turner, said in an interview Friday that he will appeal. He likened the government’s actions to somebody who “stands in front of a house and says it’s infested with vermin,” thereby destroying property value.

The FDA had responded to an outbreak of salmonella-related illnesses in 2008, issuing warnings on June 3 and June 7 of that year linking the outbreak to certain types of tomatoes. The FDA also held a media briefing on June 13, opining that the “vast majority” of salmonella-tainted tomatoes was “very likely” from New Mexico and Florida.

Four days later, having concluded the disease outbreak was actually linked to imported serrano and jalapeno peppers, the FDA lifted its warning against tomatoes. In the meantime, though, “all or almost all of the value of plaintiffs’ perishable tomatoes was destroyed by the collapse in the market for tomatoes triggered by the FDA’s warnings,” Bush noted.

tomato.recallThe price of Georgia tomatoes in 2008 dropped to less than $4 per box from the usual $18 to $19, while some Florida growers were reportedly reduced to selling their crop for less than $1 per box.

3 found guilty in Georgia Salmonella trial

In a decision that may finally hold U.S. food producers accountable, a federal jury convicted three people Friday in connection with an outbreak of Salmonella poisoning five years ago that sickened hundreds of people and was linked to a number of deaths.

2009_0115_ss_peanut_crackerFormer Peanut Corporation of America owner Stewart Parnell was found guilty of conspiracy and other charges after a seven-week trial in Albany, Georgia.

Parnell, his brother, Michael Parnell, and quality assurance manager Mary Wilkerson have been on trial since Aug. 1 on charges stemming from the 2008-2009 outbreak that sickened 714 people and was linked to nine deaths. Michael Parnell was found guilty of conspiracy. Wilkerson was found guilty of obstruction.

Conspiracy charges and the obstruction charges each carry up to 20 years in prison. Sentencing will take place at a later date.

Experts say it’s the first time corporate executives and plant workers have gone to trial in a food poisoning case.

Jury won’t consider deaths in Georgia Salmonella trial

A jury weighing criminal charges Thursday against the owner of a Georgia peanut plant blamed for a nationwide salmonella outbreak five years ago will decide the case without hearing one fact — that nine people died after eating the company’s tainted peanut butter.

peanutFormer Peanut Corporation of America owner Stewart Parnell and two co-defendants have been on trial since Aug. 1 and the jury started deliberations last Friday. Parnell and his brother, food broker Michael Parnell, are charged with knowingly shipping contaminated peanut butter to customers and faking lab tests intended to screen for salmonella.

Prosecutor Patrick Hearn, in his closing argument Friday, said Parnell and his co-defendants were greedy enough “to toss food safety to the wind.” But he stopped short of describing the outbreak’s full consequences.

“They served up salmonella to people and they ate it,” Hearn said. “This needs to never happen again.”

Why not tell the jury of the deaths? The Parnell brothers aren’t charged with killing or sickening anybody.

Instead, prosecutors decided they could build a stronger case charging them with defrauding their customers — food producers including Kellogg’s — and selling them tainted goods, said U.S. Attorney Michael Moore of Georgia’s Middle District, whose office tried the case.

“We wanted to make sure we kept the jury focused on the conduct that led to these people’s sickness, but not let the case get into the medical history of every victim out there” with testimony on individual deaths, Moore said.

Foster Farms won’t come clean

I’m not a fan of antibiotic resistance stories, I’m not a fan of NRDC, but I am a fan of food that doesn’t make people barf, and companies who are accountable, rather than the just-cook-it approach.

Family guy barfIf Foster Farms wants to regain consumer confidence, market microbial food safety at retail.

After the NPR puff-piece on Foster Farms and its Salmonella-laden chicken which has sickened at least more than 600 people, the Los Angeles Times reports that after reopening its main plant in Central California after a cockroach infestation, federal inspectors were already writing-up new violations at the sprawling poultry-processing facility.

U.S. Department of Agricultural inspectors would cite the Livingston, Calif., plant more than 40 times over the next two months for violations such as mold, rust on equipment and several instances of fecal contamination.

The new details were released by the Natural Resources Defense Council, a New York environmental advocacy group that is campaigning to reduce antibiotic use in livestock over concerns that it is contributing to drug-resistant superbugs.

The issue has become so prominent in the industry that Perdue Farms announced last week that it was the first major poultry brand to eliminate antibiotic use in its hatcheries.

Using the Freedom of Information Act, the NRDC received months’ worth of documented violations at Foster Farms from the USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service.

food.that.doesn't.make.you.barf.09The goal? To lift the veil at a company linked to an outbreak of salmonella that sickened at least 634 people from March 2013 to July. The outbreak was notable for its higher rates of hospitalizations and the presence of antibiotic-resistant strains of salmonella.

“Throughout the salmonella crisis, Foster Farms repeatedly told us it was committed to leadership in food safety. But the reports show that when you look behind the curtain, it’s a company that can’t comply with its own food safety plan,” said Jonathan Kaplan, the council’s food and agriculture program director.

Thomas E. Elam, president of farming consulting company FarmEcon in Carmel, Ind., said the number of violations was unusually high, though he did not have comparative data for poultry firms of a similar size.

“Some of the issues are very minor, but there is a pattern of lack of employee training and sanitation issues with the plant infrastructure that are not so minor,” said Elam, who reviewed a copy of the violations. “I’m frankly surprised by the number of bird handling and contamination issues from improperly operating equipment…. These data are not going to put Foster in a positive light.”

The Food Safety and Inspection Service did not respond to a request to explain whether Foster Farms was receiving violations at higher rates than similarly sized competitors.

Prosecutor says Georgia peanut plant owner OK’d sales of salmonella-tainted food ‘whatever the risk’

Prosecutors are wrapping up their case against the owner of a Georgia peanut plant linked to a deadly salmonella outbreak, saying he knowingly approved shipments of tainted food “whatever the risk.”

peanutJurors began hearing closing arguments Thursday in the five-week federal trial of former Peanut Corporation of America owner Stewart Parnell and two others charged with covering up lab tests that found salmonella in peanuts and peanut butter. The company’s products are blamed for killing nine Americans and making 714 others sick in 2008 and 2009.

Defense attorneys took barely an hour Wednesday to rest their cases after more than a month of prosecution testimony.

Farm to table: Preventing foodborne outbreaks

Monitoring pathogens for their infectious capacity in humans may not be the best approach to minimize the risk of foodborne outbreaks, say researchers who spoke during the 2014 ASM General Meeting in Boston last May.

lettuce.tomato.skullOther factors come into play—particularly, the ability of some pathogens to colonize food sources, proliferate, and thus amplify the inoculating dose delivered to consumers is critically important, they say. Colonizing food sources also can alter gene expression, increasing pathogenicity and decreasing the infectious dose. Understanding this “ecology” could prove crucial for predicting and preventing foodborne outbreaks.

Greens and produce are major sources of foodborne pathogens, many of which can thrive when greens are cut and processed during food preparation. Produce is the leading source of foodborne illness commonly caused by Salmonella enterica or Escherichia coli O157:H7 on leafy greens, according to Maria Brandl of the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) in Albany, Calif.

“The continuous rise in the number of outbreaks of foodborne illness linked to fresh fruit and vegetables challenges the notion that enteric pathogens are defined mostly by their ability to colonize the intestinal habitat,” she says. “Enteric pathogens utilize diverse and overlapping strategies to interact with plants and their microflora, and to successfully colonize vertebrate hosts.”

Salmonella from pet food featured on ‘The Doctors’

A 2-year-old Waxhaw girl, who contracted salmonella after her family’s pets ate contaminated dog food, will appear with her parents on a nationally syndicated consumer health show Thursday.

Diamond Pet FoodsBrian and Elizabeth Hall and their daughter will be guests on “The Doctors.” The show is scheduled to run on WCNC Channel 36 at 2 p.m.

Amy gets sick every two to three weeks and will fight the disease for several years, doctors say. Her parents have sued Diamond Pet Foods, whose plant outside Columbia was the source of a nationwide salmonella outbreak in 2012. 

Individual stamps on every egg to trace Salmonella are a rotten idea, say small Australian egg producers

We went with another family to our favorite fish shop for dinner last night after an outing in the park with our daughters.

garlic_aioliThe restaurant owners know not to serve me the aioli which includes raw egg.

We’ve had that conversation.

ABC Rural reports that small-scale egg producers in New South Wales say compulsory stamps on every single egg are a rotten idea.

From November, NSW will follow Queensland to require all bought eggs to have stamps so any food poisoning outbreak like Salmonella can be traced back.

But small producers argue it would cost them up to $30,000 to install and manage the stamping equipment.

NSW Egg Farmers Association director Jo Damjanovic says if consumers get sick, it’s easier to trace the cartons than eggs.

“The egg would be used up by the consumer, the egg shell would be thrown in the rubbish and the traceability would be thrown in the rubbish as well.

“It’s just ridiculous to think you can jigsaw-puzzle a piece of eggshell back together to figure out where that egg came from.”

The NSW Government says egg producers have had two years to prepare for the new national standards and there are exemptions for micro egg producers, those who turn out 1,000 eggs a day or 20 dozen a week.

Eggs sold at the farm gate also will not require a stamp, nor will those sold for charity.

NSW Primary Industries Minister Katrina Hodgkinson says eggs are one of the leading sources of Salmonella.

“Between 2010 and 2014, there were 40 food poisoning outbreaks associated with eggs, affecting more than 700 people.”

But Mr Damjanovic says a report he commissioned to assess the Regulatory Impact Statement found there has been no improved traceback in Queensland, where they’ve been stamping eggs since 2005.