What is Food Contamination?

Food contamination involves the contamination of food by physical, chemical, biological or cross-contamination incidents. Food contamination can lead to serious health issues, such as food poisoning, and therefore it must be handled seriously.

What is Food Contamination?

Health & Safety Knowledge Base | Food Safety Training

Posted by: Morgan Rennie Published: Mon, 29 Jun 2020 Last Reviewed: Mon, 29 Jun 2020
What is Food Contamination?

Food contamination involves food which has been contaminated with a foreign substance, which could be physical, biological or chemical. Food contamination occurs when food is not cooked properly, stored properly or is handled unhygienically, allowing bacteria, viruses and germs to contaminate the food. If you eat contaminated food, the symptoms can be unpleasant and sometimes serious. Therefore, food contamination should be avoided as far as possible.

Physical Contamination

Physical contamination occurs when hazardous, physical objects come into contact with food. Physical contamination includes a range of physical objects which are present during the food preparation journey.

Physical harmful objects include:

  • Plasters
  • Plastic
  • Glass
  • Hair
  • Metal
  • Fingernails
  • Jewellery

To avoid physical contamination of food, ensure that those handling foods have their hair tied back, no jewellery on, their hands washed thoroughly, gloves on, and if they are wearing a plaster, it must be a bright blue kitchen plaster. If something which is glass or plastic breaks in the kitchen, all surrounding food must be disposed of in case any specks of glass or plastic have contaminated the food.

Biological Contamination

Biological contamination is the contamination of food by living organisms, and with the ideal conditions, living organisms can multiply on foods and create a significant health issue.

Bacteria includes:

  • Salmonella
  • Escherichia coli (E. coli)
  • Campylobacter
  • Listeria

Bacteria can live on raw meat, the human body, a human's clothes, pests and in the air. The bacteria can land on food and if there are ideal growth conditions, they are able to multiply.

To avoid biological contamination, you must:

  • Ensure food is cooked or re-heated thoroughly, until the core temperature reaches 75°C or 70°C for at least 2 minutes.
  • Ensure the individuals handling food have high personal hygiene standards, including thoroughly washed hands, clean clothes, hair tied back and gloves on.
  • Establish strong health and safety standards in your workplace to ensure that everyone handling and working with food conducts themselves in the best interest of consumers.
What is Food Contamination?

Chemical Contamination

Contamination of foods by a chemical product can be serious. Therefore, it is important to be aware of the different chemicals which come into contact with food during the food production journey.

Chemical products include:

  • Pesticides, which are a major source of chemical contamination.
  • Artificial chemical substances.
  • Kitchen cleaning products.
  • Pest control products.

Cross-contamination

Cross-contamination involves pathogens from an object or piece of food coming into contact with another piece of food.

Raw food, dirty clothes and utensils all carry pathogens from a foreign object or piece of food, which could come into contact with the food you are handling currently.

To avoid cross-contamination:

  • Ensure that you use separate utensils and chopping boards when preparing different foods.
  • When storing food, ensure raw food does not come into contact with cooked food.
  • Ensure your waste bin and food are kept far aware from your raw, cooked or prepped food.
  • Ensure those who are handling the food have strong personal hygiene, including clean hands, clean clothes, hair tied back and gloves on their hands.

In November 2019, Aldi published a statement to customers in the United Kingdom regarding a food contamination scare. Food hygiene officials discovered that Aldi used a manufacturer for frozen berries in the United States called Wawona Frozen Foods, who had found potential contamination of the berries with Hepatitis A. Hepatitis A is a contagious virus which affects the liver, and is dealt with seriously by health officials and food hygiene officials.

Wawona Frozen Foods and Aldi recalled the frozen berries from stores in the United States, but Aldi confirmed to their UK customers that the frozen berries were not contaminated in UK stores as they use a different supplier in the UK. The re-calling of the frozen berries in the United States demonstrates how seriously potential food contamination is dealt with.

Therefore, it is important to ensure those dealing with food are thoroughly aware of the risks associated with food contamination.

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