Monthly Archives: March 2015

Towels Top the Kitchen Contamination Hazards List

From the March 19 issue of the online publication infection control today

The article featured below is the product of research carried out at Kansas State University where scientists study food handling safety. The study details how pathogens are spread in a kitchen environment, commercial or home, in spite of people being educated about safe food handling techniques. (see excerpt below)

The study found that all participants, regardless of food safety message group prior to the meal preparation, made mistakes in the kitchen that could lead to foodborne illness.
In addition to high levels of contamination in their cloth towels, about 82 percent of participants also left meat-originating contamination on the sink faucet, refrigerator, oven and trash container.
While the study paints a picture of the objects consumers often leave contaminated, it is important to note common mistakes that occur in the kitchen, which are often difficult to change.

The Nano-Shield antimicrobial system provides the answer to this pervasive problem by eliminating 99.99% of microbes on surfaces which are treated, and then inhibiting the pathogens from regrowing on those surfaces for up to 90 days. The Nano-Shield antimicrobial system reduces or prevents cross contamination from or to treated surfaces. Every touch point in a kitchen as well as the sponges and hand towels should be treated with the Nano-Shield antimicrobial system in order to reduce the incidence of food poisoning.

Towels top the Kitchen Contamination Hazard List

Although only 9 percent of reported foodborne illness outbreaks occur in the home, scientists estimate the actual number of incidents is much higher. Research shows a leading cause of cross contamination within the home is actually an object associated with cleaning, the kitchen towel. A study recently published in the journal Food Protection Trends highlights the work of several Kansas State University faculty and students.

Lead researcher and K-State food safety specialist Jeannie Sneed says the study showed some unique observations and areas of weakness when it comes to consumers’ kitchen behavior. “First, participants were observed frequently handling towels, including paper towels, even when not using them for drying,” Sneed says. “Towels were determined to be the most contaminated of all the contact surfaces tested.”

Video observation showed many participants would touch the towel before washing their hands or used the towel after washing their hands inadequately. Even after properly washing their hands, they reused the towel and contaminated themselves all over again. Researchers believe this could be one of the most critical findings of the study, because cloth towels can quickly and easily become contaminated at significant levels, including microorganisms that potentially can lead to foodborne illnesses.

Other researchers found that salmonella, bacteria commonly found in raw meat and poultry products, grows on cloths stored overnight, even after they were washed and rinsed in the sink. This is why Sneed recommends washing cloth towels after using them while preparing a meal, or using paper towels and discarding them after each use.

Another observation from the study was cell phone handling during food preparation and the lack of proper sanitation afterward. While electronic devices are useful tools for communication, entertainment and a method of gathering recipes, they add another potential source of contamination.

“We often take our cell phones and tablets into the kitchen,” Sneed says, “but what about all the other places we take them? Think of how many times you see someone talking on their cell phone in places like the bathroom, where microorganisms such as norovirus and E. coli are commonly found.”

If such devices will be used in the kitchen, Sneed recommends treating them as potential hazards and wiping the surfaces with a disinfectant solution frequently.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) hopes to conduct further research on the use of cell phones and tablets in the kitchen.

The USDA Food Safety and Inspection Service funded the K-State study “Consumer Food Handling Practices Lead to Cross Contamination” ( to better understand the behavior of consumers with young children and observe the effects of food safety messages.

The 123 participants of the study were randomly assigned to three separate groups. The first group was given an education program on the four national Food Safe Families campaign messages of clean, separate, cook and chill. The second group viewed and discussed the Ad Council public service announcements that focused on the same Food Safe Families messages, and the third group did not receive any food safety education before preparing the meal.

The researchers set up a condominium on the K-State campus to reflect a home kitchen environment and videotaped the participants preparing a recipe using either raw ground beef or chicken and a ready-to-eat fruit salad. The raw meat was inoculated with Lactobacillus casei, a nonpathogenic organism commonly found in yogurt but not naturally present in meat.

The L. casei served as a tracer organism that allowed Randall Phebus, K-State food microbiologist and co-author of the study, to track the levels of meat-associated contamination spread throughout the kitchen while preparing these meals.

Phebus and his team of students found that more than 90 percent of the fruit salads prepared alongside the meat dish were contaminated with the tracer organism, suggesting that if the tracer represented a pathogen such as Salmonella, a high risk of foodborne illness was generated during the meal preparation.

The study found that all participants, regardless of food safety message group prior to the meal preparation, made mistakes in the kitchen that could lead to foodborne illness.

In addition to high levels of contamination in their cloth towels, about 82 percent of participants also left meat-originating contamination on the sink faucet, refrigerator, oven and trash container.

While the study paints a picture of the objects consumers often leave contaminated, it is important to note common mistakes that occur in the kitchen, which are often difficult to change.

“I think these days a lot of people learn on their own how to cook, so they may not know how to be conscious of cross contamination,” Sneed said. “People are becoming more aware of the hazards in raw meat products, but they may not know how to prevent those hazards through things like separation or raw and ready-to-eat foods and sanitation. I think it’s fairly easy to avoid cross contamination, but it’s also easy to cause it.”

Tips and Tricks for a Safe Kitchen

Kansas State University food safety specialists Jeannie Sneed and Randall Phebus will both admit that even with extensive education and experience in food safety, neither is perfect in the kitchen. With families of their own, they understand how hard it can be to prevent cross contamination in the home and have provided tips they use in their own kitchens.

  1. Wash your hands; don’t just splash and dash.
  2. Sneed believes the most important habit consumers should add to their routine is proper and frequent handwashing (, which is often not up to par. “You should wash them as soon as you get into the kitchen,” she said, “and you must do so with soap and water, not just splash and dash. You also have to think about where the potential for contamination lies and also wash them when handling fresh produce or raw foods such as meat or eggs.”

    The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics ( estimates proper handwashing may eliminate nearly half of all cases of foodborne illness and significantly reduce the spread of the common cold and flu.

    Follow these recommended steps for proper hand washing: use warm water to wet hands, scrub with soap and water for 20 seconds, rinse well with warm water, and air dry or use single-use towels to dry hands.

    1. Wash your cloth towels.

    A K-State study identified cloth towels as the most common contaminated surface, and a major reason was simply how often they were handled. Sneed recommends refraining from using the same cloth towel for every task in the kitchen. Instead, use a paper towel for drying hands or to wipe something off the counter. Cloth towels also should be washed frequently; Sneed prefers consumers change out their towels every day or even after every meal prepared with raw meat and poultry.

    1. Don’t use sponges, but if you must, use proper sanitizing methods.

    The USDA does not recommend using sponges in the kitchen, but Phebus knows that most consumers use them despite that recommendation. “Sponges give me the creeps, because I know what grows in them,” Phebus says. “But, my wife insists on having a dish sponge to wipe down counters and cabinets so I’m constantly sanitizing it.”

    Consumers who can’t part with their dish sponge should frequently sanitize it to kill and prevent the spread of pathogens that use a sponge’s humid environment to thrive. Sanitation can be done in multiple ways, such as putting the sponge in the dishwasher or soaking it in a weak bleach solution. Phebus prefers placing the damp sponge in his microwave and zapping it for 30 seconds.

    1. Use a food thermometer.

    Most foodborne pathogens die when a food is cooked properly, which is why some ready-to-eat foods such as salads pose such a high risk for making people sick. The only way to know food has been cooked well enough to destroy any potential microorganisms is to go by temperature. Cook ground beef to 160 degrees F and poultry to 165 degrees F.

  3. “As part of the study we also asked participants if they have a thermometer and if they use that thermometer,” Sneed says. “The consistent finding was that many people don’t have one, and even if they do, they don’t frequently use it.”
    1. Separate duties of commonly used items.

    The spread of foodborne pathogens centers on contact with contaminated sources. As food is stored and prepared, separate ready-to-eat foods, such as fresh fruits and vegetables, from raw meat and poultry. This includes separating tools or surfaces used in preparation, including items such as dish towels, cutting boards and other contact surfaces. Sneed likes to separate her cutting boards by color by assigning a different color to those used with raw meats and those used with fresh fruits and vegetables. She also separates her cloth towels by usage, one for hand washing and the other for drying dishes.

    “Even though it is typically better for dishes to drain dry, I still keep a dish towel around, but it is only dedicated to dishes,” she says. “I do not use the same one for drying my hands. I know sometimes that is a challenge to keep them separate, especially when you have other family members or guests that come into your kitchen.”

    1. Think like a microbiologist; sanitization is your new best friend.

    “Anytime you’re handling food, especially if it’s a raw meat product, you have to slow down and think about where contamination exists,” Phebus says. “Don’t feel like you and your family are invincible, because these diseases can have drastic and deadly effects. Cross contamination is not an elementary thing. You need to put thought into it and try to improve.”

    Sanitation is the best defense for stopping the spread of contamination, but with busy lives it can be difficult to find time to properly sanitize a kitchen. Phebus recommends building sanitation into the daily kitchen routine. “I promote using a little bit of bleach in a bottle of water and to change it regularly,” he says. “While you’re in the kitchen, wipe down frequently used surfaces like the door knobs and handles of the refrigerator. And then after every major meal do a final wipe down of the whole kitchen, which is something most people don’t do.”

    Research found that regardless of the message or communication style, it all comes down to consumer behavior and the willingness to change old habits or take a little extra time to sanitize another surface.

    “People often know the risks,” Phebus says, “but they are willing to overlook them to continue things the old way and the easy way. In many instances, however, consumers don’t have enough understanding of basic microbiology to make good food safety decisions. We are always trying to get understandable information out to consumers and food service workers.”

    Source: Kansas State University

MRSA can persist in a home for over eight years, according to new study

Nano-Shield provides 24/7 protection from microbes, including MRSA, on all treated surfaces reducing or eliminating the threat of cross contamination.

MRSA Can Linger in Homes, Spreading Among its Inhabitants

Source: American Society for Microbiology

Households can serve as a reservoir for transmitting methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA), according to a study published this week in mBio®, the online open-access journal of the American Society for Microbiology. Once the bacteria enters a home, it can linger for years, spreading from person to person and evolving genetically to become unique to that household.

MRSA are strains of the bacterium Staphylococcus aureus that are resistant to almost all antibiotics related to penicillin, known as the beta-lactams. Since the 1990s, community-associated MRSA infections, mostly skin infections, have been seen in healthy people. The predominant community-associated strain of MRSA, called USA300, is virulent and easily transmissible.

For the study, researchers used a laboratory technique called whole genome sequencing on 146 USA300 MRSA samples. These samples were collected during a previous study from 21 households in Chicago and Los Angeles where a family member had presented to the emergency room with a skin infection found to be caused by USA300 MRSA. During that study, published in 2012 in the journal Clinical Infectious Diseases, investigators visited the homes of 350 skin infection patients, culturing their and their family members’ noses, throats and groins for bacterial colonization. Among 1,162 people studied (350 skin infection patients and 812 household members), S. aureus colonized at one or more body sites of 40 percent (137 of 350) of patients with skin infections and 50 percent (405 of 812) of their household contacts.

For the current study, investigators evaluated the samples to understand transmission dynamics, genetic relatedness, and microevolution of USA300 MRSA within households. They also compared genetic information from these MRSA samples with previously published genome sequences of 35 USA300 MRSA isolates from San Diego and 277 USA300 MRSA isolates from New York City, as well as with the completed genomes of the bacteria USA300 TCH1516 and FPR3757. They created an evolutionary tree to show the relationships among the bacterial strains.

The researchers found that isolates within households clustered into closely related groups, suggesting a single common USA300 ancestral strain was introduced to and transmitted within each household. Researchers also determined from a technique called Bayesian evolutionary reconstruction that USA300 MRSA persisted within households from 2.3 to 8.3 years before their samples were collected, and that in the course of a year, USA300 strains had a 1 in a million chance of having a random genetic change, estimating the speed of evolution in these strains. Researchers also found evidence that USA300 clones, when persisting in households, continued to acquire extraneous DNA.

“We found that USA300 MRSA strains within households were more similar to each other than those from different households,” says senior study author Michael Z. David, MD, PhD, an assistant professor of medicine at the University of Chicago. Although MRSA is introduced into households rarely, he said, once it gets in, “it can hang out there for years, ping-ponging around from person to person. Our findings strongly suggest that unique USA300 MRSA isolates are transmitted within households that contain an individual with a skin infection.”

USA300 broke down into two big groups or clades, with the vast majority of isolates from Los Angeles genetically different from those in Chicago. Fluoroquinolone-resistant USA300 clones emerged around 1995 and were more widespread in Los Angeles, San Diego and New York City than in Chicago.

“The study adds to the knowledge base of how USA300 MRSA has spread throughout the country,” said study coauthor Timothy D. Read, PhD, an associate professor of infectious diseases at the Emory University School of Medicine in Atlanta. “We’re also getting hints at how it evolves inside households. Decolonization of household members may be a critical component of prevention programs to control USA300 MRSA spread in the United States.”

The study was supported by the National Institutes of Health.

mBio® is an open access online journal published by the American Society for Microbiology to make microbiology research broadly accessible. The focus of the journal is on rapid publication of cutting-edge research spanning the entire spectrum of microbiology and related fields. It can be found online at http://mbio.​asm.​org.

Source: American Society for Microbiology

Combatting Cross-Contamination Concerns in Public Restrooms

From the March 4 issue of Cleaning and Maintenance Management online

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Combating Cross-Contamination Concerns in Public Restrooms

Tips to keep infectious agents at bay in these tough environments

By Dr. Rosie D. Lyles MHA, MSc

February 02, 2015

In any commercial setting—whether it is a hotel, office, school, airplane or even a hospital—public restrooms represent one of the biggest infection prevention challenges and are areas with the greatest potential for germ cross-contamination. Due to their function and constant use, everything from urine and fecal matter to other bodily fluids and dirt contribute to restroom cleaning challenges daily. Not to mention, every time a toilet is flushed, it releases a plume of aerosolized droplets that can carry bacteria to other restroom surfaces like floors, walls, and handles,1 heightening cross-contamination concerns.

Cross-contamination occurs when bacteria and viruses are transferred from one surface to another. The abundance of high-touch surfaces and objects in public restrooms make it easy for patrons and even cleaning professionals to inadvertently move illness-causing pathogens from one surface to another. For example, when a woman’s purse is placed on a restroom floor and then placed on a sink counter, the germs and bacteria on the floor can be transferred to the purse and then to the sink. One study even found that 20 percent of handbags contained more germs than the average toilet flush and could potentially cross-contaminate other surfaces.2

While the potential for germ transmission and cross-contamination in restrooms is high, it may not always be top of mind for cleaning professionals, who often face conflicting priorities when it comes to restroom maintenance. This article outlines some tips for helping facility managers and cleaning professionals manage cross-contamination concerns in their facilities, especially during the winter months.

Making Sure Public Health Doesn’t Get Lost in Translation

Consumer perceptions of restroom cleanliness can have a serious impact on a business’ bottom line, but it’s always important to remember—and to stress to employees—that restroom cleanliness serves a critical public health function: preventing the spread of bacteria, viruses, and fungi that cause infection.

Cleaning issues typically associated with restroom appearance such as visible stains, soiled surfaces and odors can signal the presence of harmful microorganisms. Influenza (flu) and norovirus germs are commonly found in restrooms and are associated with outbreaks of illness.1,2 With flu season in full swing, cleaning to stop the spread of infections is especially important now, as the flu virus and other illness-causing germs can survive on surfaces for extended periods of time and can spread when people touch infected surfaces and then touch their eyes, mouth, or nose.

A recent survey3 of cleaning industry professionals conducted by the Clorox Professional Products Co. in partnership with ISSA, the worldwide cleaning industry association, found that most cleaning professionals (85 percent) are fully aware of the importance of cleaning for appearance and health and the majority (95 percent) believe that restroom cleaning has an impact on overall public health. However, only half of respondents (49 percent) believe that their staff is aware of all the risks associated with the spread of germs in the restroom. In fact, most survey respondents (68 percent) say their staff does not understand or only somewhat understands the differences between cleaning, sanitizing, and disinfecting. These distinctions are important and are as follows:4

  • Cleaning removes germs, dirt, and impurities from surfaces or objects. Cleaning works by using soap (or detergent) and water to physically remove germs from surfaces, but does not necessarily kill them.
  • Sanitizing lowers the number of germs on surfaces or objects to a safe level as judged by public health standards or requirements to lower the risk of spreading infection.
  • Disinfecting kills germs on surfaces or objects using chemicals. The process does not necessarily clean dirty surfaces or remove germs, but killing germs on a surface after cleaning can further lower the risk of spreading infections.

Staff members should understand the role they play in preventing the spread of infection. Further, frontline cleaning professionals need the right products and appropriate training for the job.

Cleaning to Stop the Spread of Disease in the Restroom

Cleaning professionals can help prevent cross-contamination in restrooms by focusing cleaning and disinfecting efforts on germ-prone surfaces and objects such as countertops, urinals, toilets, door knobs, toilet handles, stall locks, and faucets. Since cleaning tools and equipment can become contaminated during the cleaning process, it is important not to clean multiple areas with the same supplies. Dirty cloths, sponges, and mops can spread viruses and bacteria to anything else they come in contact with, so it is important to regularly clean and disinfect or replace equipment as needed to avoid cross-contamination. Ready-to-use disposable disinfecting wipes can help decrease cross-contamination risks since they are designed to be thrown out after each use. Janitorial carts and closets should also be kept clean to prevent dirt and germs from traveling throughout a building on equipment.

Cleaning professionals should select disinfecting products that are specifically formulated and U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)-registered to kill illness-causing bacteria and viruses, such as influenza and norovirus, quickly. Remember that no matter which products are used, the best results are achieved when they are used correctly. Always refer to the product label and follow the manufacturer’s instructions for use and contact time, or the length of time the disinfectant needs to remain wet on the surface to properly kill viruses, fungi, and bacteria.

Finally, building occupants themselves also have a role to play in preventing cross-contamination, so it is important to encourage everyone to wash their hands regularly with soap and warm water—especially after sneezing or coughing, touching used tissues, or using the bathroom—and to stay home when they are sick to avoid spreading germs throughout the environment and to others.

Restrooms are one of the toughest jobs that cleaning professionals face in any industry or facility. However, with the right products, practices, and thorough cleaning and disinfecting, cleaning professionals can limit opportunities for cross-contamination and help ensure a healthy environment for building occupants and staff during flu season and year round.

1 Barker J, Jones MV. “The potential spread of infection caused by aerosol contamination of surfaces after flushing a domestic toilet.” Journal of Applied Microbiology. 99 (2005): 339–347.

2 Castillo, M. “Handbags may contain more germs than average toilet flush.” CBS News. (May 20, 2013). Web. Retrieved from:

3 Clorox Professional Products Co. and ISSA and ClearVoice Research. (May and June 2014). Cleaning Industry Professionals Public Restroom Survey. (Survey of 375 cleaning industry professionals).

4 NEA Health Information Network. “Cleaning, Sanitizing, and Targeted Disinfecting School Wide.” (2010). Web. Retrieved from: