Melvin Pascall, an associate professor in the food science and technology department at The Ohio State University, is conducting research to determine whether existing guidelines are enough to keep the public safe from cross contamination.
With 20 million cases of acute gastroenteritis and 128,000 hospitalizations a year attributed to food-borne illness, Pascall is looking for ways to improve the system.
"While there are dishware-cleaning guidelines, there are no actual laws that mandate food service businesses must use them," Pascall says. "We know that when public food establishments follow the cleaning protocols, they do a very good job at getting rid of bacteria. But we don't know if those protocols work to kill virusesand this may help explain why there are still so many illnesses caused by contaminated food."
Pascall was awarded with a grant from the Ohio State Center for Clinical and Translational Science to test how effectively the current government standards, which are proven to sanitize against bacteria, are able to rid dishes and silverware of viruses. Pascall theorizes that viruses could be a bigger health issue, because it only takes a small number of viruses to make a person sick and many viruses could withstand the high temperatures used in commercial dishwashing protocols.
Working with a team of virologists, Pascall set out to test the ability of common virusesnorovirus and sapovirusto make it through a variety of food service cleaning scenarios. Norovirus is responsible for 90 percent of epidemic nonbacterial cases of gastroenteritis and is commonly associated with illnesses seen on cruise ships and other closed communities where the virus can spread easily. Building off these research results, which are currently being compiled, the team will next investigate if hepatitis A and the avian flu virus are able to get past current washing and sanitization protocols.
"I think we'll find that the current use of heat and chlorine-based detergents are able to protect against some viruses, but we may need to bring forward new technologies or new protocols to kill other types of viruses," says Pascall.
He also offers the following tips to help consumers reduce their chances of picking up a foodborne illness.
When eating out, if you find lipstick on a glass, ask for a new glass. If you've already taken a sip, don't be too worried that you've picked up something. Most lipsticks already contain an antibacterial ingredient. Also, never eat from a dish or plate that has a crack in it. Cracked dishes can harbor bacteria.
Forks are the hardest utensils to clean because of the tines, so always check a fork before you use it. High fat foods are the most difficult to get off, especially raw and fried eggs. Some states require the certificate of inspection to be in plain sight. You may want to pass on an establishment that has had any health inspection issues.
In homes, most dishwashers have several built-in sanitizing steps, but if you wash dishes by hand, the three critical T's to remember are time, temperature, and towel dry. Wash and rinse immediately to reduce the amount of bacteria that grows on the dish. And take the time to make sure all visible food particles are gone. Wash in hottest water possible to kill bacteria, and wash away foods that bacteria can grow on. Dry immediately using a clean fabric or disposable paper towel to prevent airborne bacteria from sticking.
Pascall is working on other food safety research topics, including an evaluation of electrolyzed water technologies as well as a review of how different materials used in common kitchenware can either promote or inhibit bacterial growth. He has published extensively in peer reviewed journals and is a regular contributor to the Conference for Food Protection.
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