Research – Cross-Contamination to Surfaces in Consumer Kitchens Using MS2 as a Tracer Organism in Ground Turkey Patties

Journal of Food Protection

It is estimated that one in five cases of foodborne illnesses is acquired in the home. However, how pathogens move around a kitchen environment when consumers are preparing food is not well characterized. The purpose of this study was to determine the prevalence and degree of cross-contamination across a variety of kitchen surfaces during a consumer meal preparation event. Consumers (n=371) prepared a meal consisting of turkey patties containing the bacteriophage MS2 as a tracer organism and a ready-to-eat lettuce salad. Half were shown a video on proper thermometer use before the trial. After meal preparation, environmental sampling and detection were performed to assess cross-contamination with MS2. For most surfaces, positivity did not exceed 20%, with the exception of spice containers, for which 48% of the samples showed evidence of MS2 cross-contamination. Spice containers also had the highest MS2 concentrations, at a mean exceeding 6 log 10 viral genome equivalent copies (GEC) per surface. The high level of MS2 on spice containers drove the significant differences between surfaces, suggesting the significance of spice containers as a vehicle for cross-contamination, despite the absence of previous reports to this effect. The thermometer safety intervention did not affect cross-contamination. The efficiency of MS2 transfer, when expressed as a percentage, was relatively low, ranging from an average of 0.002 to 0.07%. Quantitative risk assessment work using these data would aid in further understanding the significance of cross-contamination frequency and efficiency. Overall, these data will help create more targeted consumer messaging to better influence consumer cross-contamination behaviors.

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