What is Food Contamination? | National Food Institue

What is food contamination?

Types of contamination and how they occur

Food contamination just means that there is a substance present in the food that should not be there. There are four types of contamination: physical, chemical, microbiological, and allergens. 

These kinds of contamination can have varying effects on people if they are experienced by customers. Chemical or microbiological contamination can make people physically sick, while allergens can have a range of undesirable effects, even death in some cases. 

That is why it is so important to minimise the risk of contaminants using HACCP principles at your food processing facility. It’s also crucial to instil in your workers the need for a food safety culture. The best way to do that is to lead by example. 

When it comes to physical contamination, customers usually don’t get sick from it, though they may still become injured if they try to eat something that has physical contaminants in it. 

There is also a risk for loss of reputation of a company as customers who have experienced a physical contaminant in their food spread the word to their friends and family.    

Physical food contamination  

There is a wide variety of items that come under the banner of physical contamination, but many are personal in nature, such as jewellery, band-aids, hair and nails, and false eyelashes. 

Other sources of physical food contamination are from what workers are wearing, such as buttons and thread from uniforms, as well as particles from personal protective equipment. 

Some examples of physical food contamination are in the environment such as dust and soil, condensation, and metal shavings or staples. Keeping your machinery in good condition will help alleviate the risk of contamination with metal shavings. 

If a food preparation site is not kept clean and tidy, the owners can be not only inviting microbiological contamination but also physical contamination. 

There also needs to be rules to govern how employees conduct themselves to minimise the risk of physical contamination from personal effects such as jewellery and hair. 

Chemical food contamination

There are a wide variety of sources of chemical contamination. Bacteria even make toxins that can cause food poisoning, which is technically a chemical contaminant. 

Other chemicals that can get into the food supply chain include pesticides, heavy metals, detergents, sanitisers, oils, grease, as well as natural poisons including algae, toadstools, and green potatoes. 

Despite this large list, two sources of chemical contamination are most common in the food processing industry: the use of cleaning chemicals and lubricants. 

When workers clean food processing equipment with detergents and sanitising chemicals, residue on the equipment can find its way into food. That’s why it’s vital that you use cleaning products approved by the government. 

Your food processing facility should have specific rules as to the use and storage of cleaning chemicals to ensure the safety of your workers, and your customers who will be consuming your wares. 

Lubricants are used on machinery to aid their operation, but if a piece of equipment is faulty, it may leak grease or oil into your food product. 

Microbiological food contamination 

Microbiological food contamination can occur from bacteria, viruses, or fungi, including yeasts and moulds. 

Spread of microbiological contaminants can happen when a food handler has poor hygiene, when a food handler is sick, when food is handled incorrectly, or when a food substance is obtained from an unclean source. 

In addition, if temperature and time controls are not in place, bacteria and other microbiological matter can grow. 

Unclean premises, including those with pest infestations, can also be a harbour for microorganisms.Of all these microorganisms that can cause food contamination, bacteria are the biggest challenge to overcome for food processing plants. It is also the most common cause of food poisoning, due to the rapid growth of bacterial cells.  

Allergen food contamination

There are many known allergens that can make their way into food that is being prepared at a food processing facility. Here is a list of some common allergens. Consumers need to be wary of the allergen plus all associated products: 

  • Gluten
  • Crustacea
  • Egg
  • Fish
  • Milk
  • Peanuts
  • Soybeans
  • Sulphites
  • Tree nuts
  • Sesame seeds

If the allergens are known, you might wonder how they get into products undetected. There is a multitude of ways. The allergen might be present in the raw materials of the product, it might be a processing aid, like certain enzymes, or you might be using an incorrect formulation of your product. There may also be contact made either in-process or post-process. 

This can lead to problems, because if you’re not aware that an allergen is in your product, you may not think to declare it on your packaging, which means you will have an undeclared allergen in it, which may be the cause of a food recall

Let us help you combat contamination 

To take the offence position when it comes to combating contamination, it helps to be fully informed. Here at National Food Institute, we provide the training your organisation needs to ensure you are aware of all HACCP principles to safeguard your people, your business, and the public. 

Contact us today to find out more about how we can help you keep your food processing facility running smoothly. 

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