This study investigated bacterial transfer rates between hands and other common surfaces involved in food preparation in the kitchen. Nalidixic acid–resistant Enterobacter aerogenes B199A was used as a surrogate microorganism to follow the cross-contamination events. Samples from at least 30 different participants were collected to determine the statistical distribution of each cross-contamination rate and to quantify the natural variability associated with that rate. The transfer rates among hands, foods, and kitchen surfaces were highly variable, being as low as 0.0005% and as high as 100%. A normal distribution was used to describe the variability in the logarithm of the transfer rates. The mean ± SD of the normal distributions were, in log percent transfer rate, chicken to hand (0.94 ± 0.68), cutting board to lettuce (0.90 ± 0.59), spigot to hand (0.36 ± 0.90), hand to lettuce (−0.12 ± 1.07), prewashed hand to postwashed hand (i.e., hand washing efficiency) (−0.20 ± 1.42), and hand to spigot (−0.80 ± 1.09). Quantifying the cross-contamination risk associated with various steps in the food preparation process can provide a scientific basis for risk management efforts in both home and food service kitchens.

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Author notes

Present address: Vlasic Foods International, Vlasic Plaza, 6 Executive Campus, Cherry Hill, NJ 08002-4112, USA.