Healthy individuals have colonies of “resident bacteria” that helps fight “transient bacteria”. There are more bacteria living in our gut, than there are stars in the universe. Bacteria and viruses enable humans to exist, period!
In other words, people are naturally contaminated with many different species of microorganisms which live on our skin, mucous membranes, feces, body cavities, and under fingernails.
Before discussing the differences between Cross-contamination and Cross-contact, there is an important distinction that would be helpful to understand before proceeding, and that is another word, Cross-infection.
Cross-contamination can be followed by Cross-infection. When a patient is admitted to a hospital, then the infection has developed as the result of the patient’s lowered/altered resistance to fight off transient pathogenic germs that might have infected the host while:
- pushing the buttons at a ATM machine with their fingertips (instead of using knuckles),
- the public restroom hand air-dryer (pathogenic aersolized droplets blown off their hands and into their nostrils),
- a handshake (the other person didn’t use soap after using the toilet),
- an elevator without a ventilation exhaust fan (a sick person coughed in the elevator 20 minutes earlier),
- and . . . _______________________. (Dear reader, please fill in the blank.)
Classification of Pathogenic Germs (*1)
Conventional pathogens – Cause disease in healthy individuals in the absence of specific immunity.
hepatitis A and B viruses,
human immunodeficiency virus (HIV).
(*1) Source: Parker MT (1978). Hospital-acquired infections: guidelines to laboratory methods. Copenhagen, World Health Organization Regional Office for Europe (European Series, No. 4)
Cross-infection does not mean that a person will become sick, but the determinants of infection taking hold and spreading on the host depends on the health of the resident-bacteria living on the host and number of transient-bacteria, viruses, or fungi that have attached themselves to the host because of Cross-contamination. Thus if a critical number of pathogenic germs is exceeded, then the infected host can become sick.
Example: Hepatitis B only needs 10 viruses, while different Enterobacteriaceas species need over 100,000 bacterium.
To learn more, please read the World Health Organization .pdf document.
Cross-contamination and Cross-contact are often used interchangeably, but these two words have different meanings even though the process of transference from surface to surface is the same. Also, the preventative methods of eliminating the consequences from surface to surface contamination are nearly identical.
Cross-contamination usually means that biological contaminants such as bacteria, viruses, and/or spores are being transferred from one surface to another surface.
Cross-contact describes the transfer of a food protein from one surface to another surface, such as peanuts or MSG, which results in people allergies to these foods having a reaction to this contamination.
These words seem similar because the process of transference happens when a hard or soft surface is contaminated with pathogens or food proteins, and this results in a chain-reaction or domino effect, which then can contaminate many different surfaces in a short period of time. This is because the greatest explorer of all time is the Human Hand. This is how biological contaminants can spread though-out a community when people do not wash their hands with soap for at least 20 seconds and use paper towels to remove the bacteria, viruses, and spores from our hands.
Hard and soft surfaces could include:
- kitchen appliances,
- tablecloths or tabletops,
- and of course, the greatest explorer of all time, the human hand.
One main difference between these two terms is the cooking process.
- Proper cooking of contaminated foods at the right temperatures can reduce or eliminate food-borne illness caused by bacteria or viruses spread by cross-contamination.
- Unfortunately, cooking does not reduce or eliminate allergenic reactions caused by cross-contact, which transfers a food allergen to another food that does not contain that allergen.
Another difference is that studies reveal:
- that liquid soap can be effective in removing food proteins/pathogens from your hands,
- but alcohol-based sanitizer’s do not remove food proteins, even though they are effective at removing pathogens,
- so while cross-contamination may not occur after hand washing or sanitizing, cross-contact can still occur if cleaning hands with a hand sanitizer only.
Cross-contamination is commonly used by people when describing how food is handled, prepared, and served to the public. Food safety education uses this term when describing how raw meat, seafood, eggs, poultry, and vegetables are handled while preparing food that is to be served at home or in the restaurant.
This term, cross-contamination, really describes how any surface is contaminated with pathogens being transferred by:
- bottoms of shoes/purses/briefcases,
- coughing or sneezing,
- and incorrect cleaning methods.
Let us examine the most important one from this list.
Hands: The greatest explorer of all time, the human hand. It doesn’t take a lot of imagination to understand that our hands set us apart from other life forms. We are able to hold, manipulate, examine, and ponder that which we hold in our hands. Everything we do, will eventually include our hands.
The number one thing that individuals can do to help prevent contaminating surfaces, animals, and people is to
Bumping fists instead of shaking hands,
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