(NaturalNews) Cutting boards in home and hospital kitchens may be sources of drug-resistant bacteria, according to a study conducted by researchers from the University Hospital Basel in Switzerland and published in the journal Infection Control and Hospital Epidemiology in March.
Over the course of 16 months, the researchers collected and tested 154 cutting boards and used gloves from the kitchen of their hospital, and 144 cutting boards from private homes in France, Germany and Switzerland. All the cutting boards were swabbed for bacteria after use but before cleaning.
The researchers found a drug-resistant strain of E. coli bacteria on five of the cutting boards from private homes, and on 10 of the cutting boards from the hospital. Half of the used hospital gloves also tested positive. Bacteria could easily spread from either of these sources to patients' rooms or food, the researchers said.
Growing health concern
Commenting on the study, Lance B. Price of George Washington University (who was not involved in it) said, "These E. coli are resistant to some of the last good drugs we have to treat them. The 'nightmare superbug' is just one step further than these."
The emergence of drug-resistant bacteria is a growing public health concern, as more and more varieties develop immunity to many of the most potent antibiotics used to treat human patients. Scientists attribute growing rates of drug resistance both to overuse of antibiotics by doctors and patients (including for the treatments of viral conditions, such as colds, which do not respond to antibiotics) and to their widespread use as growth-promoting agents in animal agriculture.
The World Health Organization estimates that 75 percent of global antibiotics sold are for animal use. Europe has now banned the use of antibiotics to promote growth in livestock, but the United States is still working out a plan to phase out such use.
Take precautions at home
Infectious disease researcher James R. Johnson of the Minneapolis VA Health Care System (who was not involved in the study) said that he was not surprised by the findings, though he did find them worrisome. Cutting boards are regularly used to process meat, the major source of E. coli bacteria.
"If other foods go on those boards before the boards get cleaned, or even after they're cleaned if the cleaning isn't 100 percent effective, the other foods, which may not get cooked, or not as thoroughly as poultry, likely would get contaminated and so could possibly pose an even higher risk of transmission to humans than the poultry products themselves," Johnson said.
Although drug-resistant bacteria are among the infectious agents of greatest concern, cutting boards can be a vector for conventional bacteria as well. The researchers emphasized that all home cooks and food service workers should wash their hands carefully after handling not just meat but used cutting boards too. Price noted that cutting boards used for raw meat or poultry should never be used for any other foods.
Home cooks need to realize that simply wiping off a cutting board does not sanitize it, Johnson said. Hot water and detergent should be sufficient, however.
"For industrial kitchens, I'm not sure what's recommended, or the standard," he said. "I'd think a bleach solution, or other disinfectant, might be desirable, if the boards can't undergo high-temp detergent washing."