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I cut a steak up into small strips with a pair of scissors.

Fried it in a pan with olive oil and onions.

Tasted great.

Until my wife told me I didn’t use the food scissors. I used the “house” scissors. We open packages, plastic, zip ties, etc all with the “house” scissors.

Should I be worried that I cut the steak with these? Will bacteria from the house scissors pass onto the steak? Or will the heat from frying kill it?

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    If anything, the problem would be that you cut non-food-grade plastic and other materials with those scissors. But the amounts you ingest that way should be negligible unless you cut really toxic stuff with the scissors. – Nobody Aug 25 '20 at 11:35
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    Your first mistake was using scissors to cut steak! What did that poor steak do to use to deserve such mistreatment?? – Jon P Aug 26 '20 at 4:16
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    User was last seen: yesterday. If he doesn't come back, I think we can assume that the steak proved to be fatal – Richard Aug 26 '20 at 6:44
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    The real risk is that the steak would contaminate the scissors. – barbecue Aug 27 '20 at 16:50
  • You should stop listening to your wife so much, as evidenced here. You'll both be happier, I promise. – user91988 Aug 27 '20 at 19:46
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You will be fine.

The food was cooked...

Just clean the "house" scissors with soap and hot water and dry them so that there is no rust.

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  • Why would rust in itself be dangerous? – l0b0 Aug 25 '20 at 10:35
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    @l0b0 It's not dangerous, but it will ruin your scissors for future use as scissors. – user3067860 Aug 25 '20 at 10:57
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    @RossPresser Not likely unless you've also used the scissors for gardening tasks (and even then not very likely as C. tetani is anaerobic (oxygen kills it)). – Austin Hemmelgarn Aug 25 '20 at 12:08
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    @RossPresser Rust doesn't invite tetanus, but the conditions conducive to tetanus are also conducive to rust. Failing to dry the scissors after washing could bring rust but not tetanus; burying the scissors outside for six months could bring both. – Tashus Aug 25 '20 at 14:52
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    @AustinHemmelgarn and Tashus, I thank you both for your comments that cleared up my misunderstanding. I'm really glad I used a question mark. – Ross Presser Aug 25 '20 at 15:57
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The concern for non-food scissors is generally not bacteria, particularly as you cooked it immediately after cooking, assuming you cooked it thoroughly.

The only real health concern would be what else you might have on the scissors. You might use non-food scissors to cut things that contain toxic chemicals, for example, or something else that could leech substances into your food that could be harmful. We can't advise you on that, given we don't know what you've done with your scissors. If you have any concerns, call your local Poison Control and they can give you advice for how to determine what the risk is.

The biggest definite problem is the scissors themselves - non-food scissors will be difficult to clean properly. Food scissors usually are able to be taken apart and put in the dishwasher, so the spot in between the blades can be fully cleaned (basically, two knives with a locking mechanism). Non-food scissors won't be able to be taken apart like that usually, and so will be very hard to fully clean. That may lead them to grow bacteria which could then cross-contaminate other things, going forward.

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    Given the random amount of stuff I cut with the "house scissors", I'd definitely first wipe them down with isopropyl alcohol, and then rinse off the poison alcohol... – RonJohn Aug 25 '20 at 20:29
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    Neither my kitchen scissors nor my poultry shears are designed to be taken apart (they're rivetted). Are you thinking of ones designed for commercial use? – Chris H Aug 26 '20 at 7:59
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    @ChrisH Not sure about your kitchen shears, but certainly most of the good ones come apart. In this list for example, only the $8 cheapies don't come apart. – Joe M Aug 26 '20 at 15:54
  • @JoeM my shears are IKEA, so cheap but probably an order of magnitude more common than most of those. My best scissors look like Fiskars though made and badged for a shop in the UK, others are supermarket or IKEA cheap ones. All rivetted, all mass-market. – Chris H Aug 26 '20 at 20:30
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    Well, all I can say is kitchen shears that are separable are amazing, especially all-stainless-steel ones that can go into the dishwasher without a second thought. :) – Joe M Aug 26 '20 at 21:09
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Bacterial (and other) infections are much more probabilistic than you appear to consider them. A few basic facts:

  • All pathogenic bacteria (and other pathogens) have a minimal infective dose, i.e., the minimal number of bacteria required to enter your body in order to start an infection. Fewer bacteria will not be able to cause an infection as your immune system reacts faster than the bacteria grow. The minimal infective dose varies strongly between different types of bacteria and depends on factors such as your immune system, but it rarely ever is 1, i.e., a single bacterium hardly ever suffices to infect you.

  • Bacteria are all over the place. They live on our skin, we carry around kilograms of them in our gut, they float around in the air, etc. I happen to know that there are roughly 10⁴ microbes (mostly bacteria) in each millilitre of my tap water (and I have no qualms drinking it as it is).

  • Most bacteria are not pathogenic, but are somewhere between not interacting with us at all and being symbiotic with us (the aforementioned kilograms of bacteria in our gut are an important part of our digestive system). In particular, to be pathogenic, a bacterium needs to be able to cope with a human as a host.

  • Cooking does not immediately kill all bacteria. Depending on the details of your process, a small fraction (something like 1 in 10⁶–10⁷) will survive the process (see this for some numbers). In particular, frying is not a very homogeneous process and thus there will likely be some bits that have non-vanishing probabilities of surviving bacteria.

The problem with your usual meat is that it is not sterile (free of microbes) and it is a perfect breeding ground for many bacteria, in particular those that like mammals (or at least vertebrates) as a host. Before your meat enters your pan, it will gather bacteria from the animal that provided the meat, the butchering process, etc. Those bacteria then have some time to multiply before you cook the meat, thus potentially reaching their minimal infective dose. By storing the meat in a fridge, you reduce this reproduction rate. By cooking the meat you ideally kill the vast majority, if not all of those bacteria, but even if a small amount survives or gets onto your food after cooking, it will probably not reach the minimal infective dose.

With all that being said, let’s finally turn to your scissors: Usually, they are far from a perfect breeding ground for bacteria, particularly those who like humans as a host, so any bacteria that got onto them due to whatever you did with them could not multiply. I presume you fried the meat immediately after cutting, so they had no time to multiply on the meat either. Finally, the frying process should kill of most, if not all of those bacteria. Thus, you will most likely be below the minimal infective dose. With respect to bacteria, the scissors are probably not much worse than any other of your kitchen utensils, let alone you. (As already noted, you should consider toxic substances on your scissors.)

Now, the above assumes that you had not done anything with your scissors that would expose them to a lot of pathogenic bacteria or make them a good breeding ground for them – such as cutting a steak with them: After your stunt, your scissors would be covered with liquids from the meat providing a perfect breeding ground for (pathogenic) bacteria. They are also likely to have acquired some pathogenic bacteria from the steak, you, or your household. Finally, you probably do not store your scissors in the freezer (not that this alone would help). Thus, you should really make sure to thoroughly clean your scissors afterwards, lest you contaminate other things or infect somebody with them later.

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    Just a note: After your stunt, your scissors would be covered with blood[...] they really won't be; there should be no blood left in any meat you buy as that would be potentially highly toxic and cause the meat to spoil very quickly. The "blood" in raw (or rare) meat is a protein called myoglobin. Still clean your scissors (scissors? Really?) but don't lose any sleep over getting icky blood all over your kitchen when you cut meat. – Spratty Aug 26 '20 at 11:15
  • @Spratty: Corrected, thanks. Still, even if its not blood, it’s rather nutritious for some microbes and you don’t want it all over your kitchen. – Wrzlprmft Aug 26 '20 at 11:22
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    Absolutely - it's always worth clearing up thoroughly when the myoglobin has been splashing around (my kitchen often looks like it's been sprayed with the stuff) but it's good for people not to think they're handling old (but strangely still liquid) blood, which would be off-the-scale unpleasant and hazardous. – Spratty Aug 26 '20 at 11:24

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