Phones and tablets are becoming kitchen utensils — are you keeping them clean?

You know to keep it clean while cooking. But do you remember hygiene when it comes to your cellphone in the kitchen? (iStock/Thinkstock)

WASHINGTON — Most people have a clue about food safety in the kitchen — frequent hand-washing, cleaning utensils and the like — but as more and more people use mobile devices in the kitchen, they may be forgetting to keep them clean as well.

Sally Squires, who writes the Lean Plate Club™ blog, said that a lot of people don’t think about the germ- and bacteria-carrying potential of smartphones and tablets in the kitchen.

A study of about 4,000 people by the Food and Drug Administration, published recently in the Journal of Food Protection, found that while about half of those surveyed used their phones or tablets in the kitchen while cooking, only about 1 in 3 said they washed their hands after touching their devices.

“Bacteria that cause disease, we know, can survive on the surface of tablets and cellphones,” Squires told WTOP. ” … Things are getting caught on [them] that we probably don’t want in our lives.”

The hazards — salmonella, E. coli and listeria are just three — can run in both directions, she said.

“You’re in the kitchen; you’re cooking. You might have just cut up the kitchen, and you want to check the recipe, and you put your finger on the screen, and then you go back to the chicken, and you have potentially just contaminated it with whatever is on your screen. Or, if the chicken had something, you may have just put it on your screen. Either way, it’s not a good thing.”

There’s no evidence that a mobile device has led to an outbreak of a food-borne disease, Squires said, but the FDA researchers said it appears that they’re the first team to study the question.

The researchers had a few suggestions, Squires said, for keeping the cooking process safe.

First off is “just that common sense of keeping things clean,” Squires said. “Watch out for cutting boards; make sure your knives are clean.”

Cooking food to the recommended temperature and chilling food properly are also among the steps.

Some people in the study also said that they try to reduce the risk by using a pinkie finger, elbows or knuckles to touch the screen. And the study’s authors suggested using voice-activated assistance, such as Siri or Alexa, to help in the kitchen.

And of course, it’s important to simply remember to wash your hands after touching a device in the kitchen.

Even the FDA researchers found that just being aware had benefits: “After they did the study, they’ve been much more aware … and they’ve been taking extra steps.”


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