Washing Utensils May Be as Important as Washing Hands

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A clean grater can help prevent foodborne illnesses.Every year North America experiences a handful of well-publicized bacterial outbreaks. Most of them are foodborne illnesses. While washing hands is the primary way to prevent the spread of such germs, keeping utensils clean also helps. And a new study says we should pay particular attention to knives and graters.

Bacteria love living on utensils. This new health breakthrough is the first, though, to find that viruses can just as easily be spread by cross-contamination from utensils such as knives and graters. One of those pathogens could be the norovirus, which is this country’s leading cause of foodborne illness. Ready-to-eat food and fresh produce are the main types responsible for outbreaks. Viruses are most frequently spread during food preparation just before people sit down to eat.

There is little information about what role kitchen utensils play in cross-contamination. But in a new study from Georgia, researchers examined how the hepatitis A virus and norovirus transferred between a range of fruit and vegetables and different kitchen knives or flat steel coarse graters.

They found that, when using clean utensils, more than half of all knives and graters became contaminated after preparing the contaminated produce. Any proceeding use of the knife or grater would allow the virus to transfer again.

In fact, a contaminated knife is capable of transferring a virus to up to seven more pieces of food. How much contamination is involved goes back to the type of produce and type of virus. Here’s an example: a smooth honeydew melon transferred more norovirus to knives than the rougher surface of a cantaloupe—but the rougher cantaloupe actually transferred more of the hepatitis A virus.

This is all to show how easily a virus can spread through your food, based on its ability to latch onto knives and graters. The researchers call it a “significant health risk.” And maybe it’s time to extend the practice of washing hands well to that of washing our utensils, doing it just as well and just as frequently.

Sources for Today’s Articles:
Washing Utensils May Be as Important as Washing Hands
Wang, Q., et al., “The fate of murin norovirus and Hepatitis A virus during preparation of fresh produce by cutting and grating,” Food and Environmental Virology. DOI 10.1007/s12560-012-9099-4.

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