Cross Contamination

Today is your Great Aunt Gerty’s 75th birthday celebration. And you are elated. You really are. She is your favorite great aunt and perhaps your favorite relative. This is because she’s inappropriate and says things you wish you could say and get away with.

For the occasion, you have slaved away at preparing chicken salad. But not just any chicken salad—the chicken salad. The recipe passed down from generation to generation with tender love and care and all that other stuff. It’s the perfect accoutrement to a buttery cracker or sandwich between two slices of soft white bread.

After you follow the recipe to a tee, you look over the final product with great pride and esteem. Then you decide it needs one last stir of love. You pick up the spoon, atop the cutting board you’ve forgotten held the raw chicken during prep. You stir and unknowingly contaminate the contents with salmonella.

Your mother calls. You answer. She asks you if you’ve prepared the famous chicken salad and then goes over the details of the celebration. She continues on a long diatribe about your Uncle Dave’s recent bout with gout and how someone stole Lydia Thompson’s beautiful ferns from off her front porch.

Finally, she hangs up, and you decide to take a breather. You make yourself comfortable and begin the latest installment of a Nordic crime series. But, two sentences in, you’re out. You fall into a deep, dream-filled slumber. You dream you’re on a beach with the sun beaming down on your stark white skin. Minutes turn to hours and all the while foodborne pathogens are quietly and furiously dispersing themselves throughout your family’s heirloom recipe.

When you are finally jarred awake, you realize you’re going to be late to Great Aunt Gerty’s party. You rush into the kitchen to find the chicken salad still sitting on the counter right where you left it. It doesn’t smell bad. It doesn’t look bad. So, that means it’s okay, right? This you wonder.

Poor Aunt Gerty, and everybody at the party is about to get sick with a foodborne illness. Do you know how this could have been prevented? First of all, raw juices from a chicken can contain bacteria, like Salmonella. Anytime you’re preparing raw chicken, or any meats for that matter, you must keep all contaminated equipment away from cooked and ready-to-eat foods. Countertops must also be sanitized to prevent the spread of bacteria, and of course, you hands must be washed and dried properly too.

Using that contaminated spoon was a big no-no. Just that action alone can make people very, very sick. The more bacteria that are present, the easier it is for people to become violently sick. Bacteria grow very quickly in what we call the Temperature Danger Zone. This is 41 to 135 degrees Fahrenheit. The longer the food is at this temperature, the faster the bacteria will multiply. So, don’t let this happened to you, your family, or your Aunt Gerty. Don’t cross contaminate, and keep your foods out of the Temperature Danger Zone.