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Why that kitchen chopping board is not so innocent

Health & Science

To prevent contamination, nutritionists say one needs to clean the chopping board after each use. [Samson Wire, Standard]

Food poisoning is a food-borne illness in which patients suffer diarrhoea, abdominal pain, nausea and vomiting. Unknown to many, one of the biggest causes of food poisoning happens to be one of the most used of household items - the chopping board in your kitchen.

Erick Ngereso, a dietician at Kenyatta National Hospital in Nairobi says the illness occurs when “food stays out too long at room temperature and becomes a breeding ground for harmful pathogens” including bacteria, viruses, parasites and other toxins.

The chopping board is one of the items with the highest risk of cross-contamination, which nutritionists explain happens when one is using a single chopping board for meat and vegetables. Using the same knife used to chop cooked and uncooked foods is also a risk factor.

Food poisoning then takes place when juices from raw meats or germs from unclean objects accidentally come into contact with cooked or ready-to-eat foods.

To prevent this contamination, nutritionists say one needs to clean the chopping board after each use before moving on to the next step while preparing food. If rinsing the board is too much work, then one chooses to use two boards - one to be strictly used to cut meat, poultry and seafood and the other for ready-to-eat foods, like bread and vegetables.

Wash the chopping board

Another important cleaning tip, especially after using the cutting board to chop raw meat, seafood or poultry, is to thoroughly wash it in hot soapy water, then disinfect it using chlorine bleach or any other sanitising solution after which one has to rinse it with water.

Experts also suggest that you wash the cutting board in hot soapy water and air dry it or pat it dry with a clean paper towel. 

One might observe high standards of hygiene while handling food but still forget one crucial factor; storage. If the food is not stored well, contamination can occur, leading to food poisoning and experts advise that meat, chicken and any other food in the fridge should be stored separately, preferably in different compartments.

“If you keep your chicken in the refrigerator for quite a while, or if some of the chicken is contaminated by other foods like fish from the market, you can end up with food poisoning,” warns Dr Christopher Opio, a digestive diseases specialist at the Aga Khan University Hospital, Nairobi.

Salads should be cleaned as well, and preferably sanitised, before eating. 


Food poisoning takes place when juices from raw meats or germs from unclean objects accidentally come into contact with cooked or ready-to-eat foods. [Courtesy]

Whereas a quick rinse in water may have once seemed sufficient, food experts suggest that you’re better off doing more than less when it comes to cleaning your fruits and veggies. This process starts by thoroughly cleaning your hands before handling any food items as this prevents the transfer of germs from one’s hands to the produce.

The second step entails sanitising fruits and vegetables by submerging anything that grows in the ground in cold water for up to 20 minutes. This helps loosen the soil particles.

You thereafter wash them thoroughly. Above all, do not wash your produce if you are not ready to consume them as doing so results in moisture that creates a conducive environment for bacteria to thrive.

For fruits, nutritionist advice you wash them under running water.

One of the easiest ways of preventing food poisoning is by maintaining food at temperatures that inhibit growth of harmful bacteria and “ideally food handled within eight hours and is well covered should be safe for consumption after warming, notes the dietician, but if left exposed, it becomes “a potential source for food poisoning,” explains Ngereso.

Rice, for instance, can be one source of food poisoning if not warmed after two hours of being exposed to the elements and staying at room temperature.

Ngereso recommends that when microwaving food like rice, “set your timer to two to three minutes as this will allow for heat to penetrate the food, adequately killing the pathogens.”

Indeed, the right temperatures are important in how one handles food and foods that have stayed for more than two hours as these could cause food poisoning. These applies for different types of food, be it roasted or fried meat, all of which should be warmed before consumption.

Equally important is to minimise cross-contamination. Digestive disease specialists advice on the need to ensure proper hand hygiene when handling food as most pathogens are transferred from hand to mouth during the preparation or feeding stages, or both. 

 For instance “if one goes to a hotel or public facility and one does not wash one’s hands, one is likely to pick germs from contaminated surfaces, and that can be a source for food poisoning,” says Dr Opio.

Food poisoning that causes diarrhea can lead to dehydration considering that losing a lot of liquids changes the balance of salts in the body, known scientifically as electrolytes, and this could have far-reaching health consequences on the victim, warns Dr Opio, adding that if the abdominal pain is severe you need to see a doctor

“In extreme cases, food poisoning could lead to kidney failure, which occurs in about one out of ten cases, and the patients might require hospitalisation or even dialysis,” says Dr Opio.

Vegetables could be contaminated

Experts say certain foods are more likely to harbour pathogens. This goes for all types of seafood, cheeses, raw eggs, unpasteurised milk and undercooked meat.

These foods can be contaminated with pathogens at different stages; from farm to table; more concerns are put to their farming/growing environments for those foods commonly consumed raw

Some of them like the chicken or oysters can ingest norovirus or salmonella in the contaminated water environment during feeding.


Salads should be cleaned and preferably sanitised, before eating. [Courtesy]

Similarly, vegetables could be contaminated with salmonella and E.coli when they irrigated using contaminated water or farmers who do not observe personal hygiene.

 Food handlers may also be a source of contamination, if they do not observe good hygiene practices when handling these foods, particularly the raw foods.

To prevent contamination through juices from meat or chicken dripping on other foods, nutritionists propose the use of sealable containers or plastic bags.

Contaminated water can be a source for food borne diseases, and Dr Opio says that infections such as amoebiasis and cholera spike during the festive season as people travel a lot and are forced to drink unsafe water or poorly processed or contaminated foods.

 Those at high risk of food poisoning are people travelling long distances as they often have to make several stops for refreshments before reaching their destinations. If the food is not handled well and prepared by someone who does not adhere to personal hygiene it may contaminate the food and cause food poisoning. “Let’s say you are travelling from Nairobi to Kisumu and you eat along the way and, it so happens that you pick a fruit or food along the way; you are at risk of getting food poisoning,” says Dr Opio.

During these stopovers, most people are likely to use the washroom, if one does not wash or sanitize their hands thereafter, they are likely to pick germs from surfaces like the toilet door or sink. These germs could easily be passed from the hands to mouth and may result in food poisoning.

You are not safe either if you indulge in hawked foods who’s preparation remains in question, that favourite boiled or roasted maize, that slice of mutura can easily see you camping at the toilet door.

Doctors say treatment for food poisoning depends on the source of the illness and severity of one’s symptoms. For most people, food poisoning is ‘self-limiting’ meaning, the illness will resolve on its own without treatment within a few days... 

Above all, vigilance and a bit of personal discipline could go a long way in ensuring you don’t end up ruining your holiday this season.?

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