Clarification on cross contamination

Discussion in 'Food & Cooking' started by kickserve, Jan 17, 2015.

  1. kickserve


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    At home cook
    I have a question that might clear up some other misconceptions I have about contamination while cooking. I've read up on safety and preventing contamination in the kitchen, but there is still something that bothers me.

    Take the following example: A pair of tongs lifts raw chicken from a plate to the pan. This same pair of tongs is used throughout the cooking and flipping process, and then lifts the cooked chicken to a serving plate. 

    But if there was bad bacteria on the raw chicken, wouldn't the tongs be contaminating or possibly transferring the bacteria on every touch?

    Even if you got a fresh pair of tongs, when you flip the chicken it still touches the raw part. To me it doesn't seem any different than cutting chicken with a knife, then using to cut something else without washing.

    What am I missing here? 

    And why is it that people have a general fear of raw chicken/salmonella, but I never hear anything bad about fish/steak and we will eat those raw any chance we get! (Yes occasionally you'll hear about E. Coli on Dateline or something)
  2. kuan

    kuan Moderator Staff Member

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    Retired Chef
    One would hope that the surface of the chicken is hot enough to kill Salmonella.
  3. teamfat


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    I Just Like Food
    The fear of salmonella in raw chicken is well founded. Today's huge chicken production factories are almost guaranteed to be somewhat contaminated. Beef and fish are different. The main problem with fish is parasites, which are controlled by freezing the fish for certain lengths of time at certain temperatures. Do some digging on "sushi grade" fish. Contamination on beef only occurs on exposed surfaces. The E. Coli problems almost always come from ground beef produced in large operations and shipped over several states. Once you grind meat, it basically all becomes an exposed surface. Pork is also pretty safe these days, you'll find many restaurants will serve it with a touch of pink instead of cooked beyond redemption. There are some places that even serve raw pork dishes. But I don't see McDonald's having a pork tartare special any day soon.

  4. luc_h


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    Home Cook
    To answer the tong question:

    Salmonella is one of the most heat resistant pathogen but it does not survive at temperatures above 74C after 3sec (165F).  When the chicken is placed on a grill or hot surface there is a gradient bubble of superheated air around the meat well above 74C.  Meat contains water which cools down the heat applied to it (bad conductor) but tongs are metal and will soak (conduct) the heat quickly.  Within seconds the metal will reach nearly the grill temp and hold that heat (above 74C) for more than 3 seconds. Even if the tongs were "contaminated" when grabbing a fully cooked piece of meat off the grill, the surface temp of a hot piece of chicken would kill the salmonella within 3-5 seconds once the tong touched the hot meat and the heated air bubble. To be safe, leaving the tip of the tongs on the grill sterilizes them.

    Picking a piece of cooled meat with contaminated (fresh meat) tongs is a dangerous cross contamination.

    The most common cross contamination mistake at a burger joints is to pick a fresh or frozen raw patty with your hand to place of the flat top or grill then using that hand and fingers to garnish a plate.  Very dangerous.  Tongs should be used as much as possible to manipulate raw meat for the reason above.

    Luc H.
    Last edited: Jan 19, 2015
  5. cheflayne


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    Professional Chef
    To my knowledge, salmonella is killed instantly at a temperature of 160F. So if you are cooking chicken to an internal temperature of 165F, the surface of the chicken is going to be at least 165F.