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Houston Department of Health and Human Services > Food Inspection and Safety (Consumer Health) > Food Safety Tips > Don't Cross-Contaminate

Be Smart - Keep Foods Apart - Don't Cross-Contaminate!

Cross-contamination, a leading cause of foodborne illness, is the transfer of harmful bacteria to food from improperly handled cutting boards, utensils or other foods. When handling raw meat, poultry and seafood, keep them separate and their juices away from cooked or ready-to-eat foods and fresh fruits and vegetables. These simple steps can prevent cross-contamination and reduce the risk of foodborne illness.


Separate raw meat, poultry and seafood from other foods in the grocery cart. Place these foods in plastic bags to prevent juices from dripping onto other foods.


Place raw meat, poultry and seafood in containers or sealed bags to prevent their juices from dripping. Raw juices often contain harmful bacteria. Stores eggs in their original container and keep them refrigerated.


  • Wash hands and surfaces often. Harmful bacteria can spread throughout the food preparation area and contaminate cutting boards, utensils, counter tops and the preparer's hands.
  • Wash hands with soap and hot water before and after handling food, using bathroom, handling pets, collecting trash, smoking, changing diapers, etc.
  • Use soap and hot water to clean kitchen surfaces. Use a sanitizer to clean spills and kitchen counter tops.
  • Wash, rinse and sanitize cutting boards, counter tops and knives used after each food item is prepared and before next item is prepared. Sanitize utensils and surfaces with a solution of one teaspoon of bleach in one quart of water. Do not use sponge in the kitchen area for cleaning and wiping. Use paper towels to wipe kitchen surfaces. If cloths or sponges are used, wash them often in your washing machine and store them in a sanitizing solution, when not in use.
  • Always use a clean cutting board. If possible, keep separate cutting boards for different products and replace them when excessively worn or they develop hard-to-clean grooves.
  • If using marinade, do not use the sauce used to marinate raw products for cooked foods. Marinade boiled beyond 165F may be used.
  • Cook all foods to proper temperature. Use a food thermometer to make sure foods are cooked to a safe internal temperature. If you have leftovers, be sure to refrigerate foods within two hours. Keep foods in the refrigerator at 41F or below.


Always use a clean plate or serving utensils. Never place cooked food on the same plate that previously held raw food. Change utensils when you change products.


According to a 1998 consumer food survey from the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA):

  • 21 percent of main meal cooks do not wash their cutting boards after cutting raw meat;
  • 25 percent of main meal cooks do not wash their hands after handling raw eggs; and
  • 61 percent of people who use a cloth or sponge to wipe kitchen counters change them less than seven times per week.


  • Explain proper cleaning and sanitizing procedures. WASH -- RINSE -- SANITIZE -- AIR DRY
  • Use color-coded cutting boards dedicated to particular food items. RED FOR BEEF, YELLOW FOR POULTRY, WHITE FOR PORK, GREEN FOR PRODUCE, ETC.
  • Explain why raw food should be stored below ready-to-eat foods. All foods should be covered and properly labeled with use-by dates as required by Houston Food Ordinance. SEPARATE - DON'T CROSS-CONTAMINATE.
  • Train all employees on the mixture level of sanitizer to water ration and discuss how often the solution needs to be changed. Failing to change the solution can promote bacterial growth. DON'T FORGET TO READ THE LABEL.
  • Proper handwashing is very critical. Proper handwashing procedure, proper place to wash hands and proper sequence for handwashing should be part of every employee orientation and training. WHEN IN DOUBT, WASH IT OUT.

For this or any other food-safety related issues, please call the Bureau of Consumer Health Services at 713-794-9200.

Contact the HDHHS Bureau of Consumer Health Services