Cross Contamination and Cross Contact

Many of us are familiar with the term cross contamination. We are told to avoid cross contamination with anything that may cause an allergic reaction.

The food industry is moving to use the term “cross contact” to define allergens that come into contact with allergen-free foods.

Cross contact happens when an allergen is transferred from one food source to another that does not contain that allergen. For example, this can happen when cheese is placed on a sandwich or croutons put on a salad are removed when told about the allergy. Cooking will not minimize or eliminate the allergens.

Cross contamination is used to define food that is contaminated by bacteria and viruses during food preparation and storage. Proper cooking techniques will usually minimize or eliminate the chances of foodborne illness.

Avoiding cross contact

Wash hands well with soap and water. Alcohol based hand sanitizers will not effective at removing allergens from skin.

Surfaces must be washed with a commercial cleaner to eliminate food protein. Simply wiping crumbs off counters, pans or utensils will not remove allergens.

When cooking at home, if possible use separate utensils to prepare allergen-free meals. Using a specific colored utensils, cutting boards, etc. for allergen-free cooking, helps keep everyone safe. Make sure that pots, pans and utensils are thoroughly washed with soap and water.

If cooking several dishes, cook the allergen-free meal first. If serving in a buffet style, to avoid any cross contact, anyone with allergies should make their plates first.

Eating out requires you to be vigilant and do your homework.

Call the restaurant ahead of time to speak to the manager or chef. If they are not available, ask for the best time to call back to speak with them.

When you arrive at the restaurant, let your server know immediately about your allergies and ask for the manager/chef that you spoke to earlier. If you are worried about anything, do not hesitate to bring it to their attention.

Questions to ask:

  • Are tables sanitized in between guests?
  • Is there a separate prep area for allergen-free cooking?
  • Are there separate cooking equipment designated for allergen-free cooking?
  • Is the grill/flap top/fryer used for both regular dishes and allergen-free dishes? If equipment is shared, you are at a much higher risk for cross contact.
  • Will my dish be handled separately? Restaurants that follow allergy-free protocol will cook and serve your dish separately, with usually the manager or chef delivering your meal to your table.

Resources, including a great printable pdf from FARE: