Contamination is the presence of harmful substances in food. Those substances can be biological, chemical, or physical. Most contaminants cause food borne illness.
How Contamination Happens
Contaminants come from a variety of places. Many contaminants are found in the animals we use for food. Others come from the air, contaminated water, and dirt. Some contaminants occur naturally in food, such as the bones in fish. Food can be contaminated on purpose. But most food contamination happens accidentally. Most contaminants get into food and onto food-contact surfaces because of the way that people handle them. For example, food handlers who don’t wash their hands
after using the restroom may contaminate food and surfaces with feces from their fingers. Once the food that the food handler touched is eaten, a foodborne illness may result. This is called the fecal-oral route of contamination. Food handlers can also pass on contaminants when they are in contact with a person who is ill. Some contaminants are passed very easily in any of these ways.
- From person to person
- Through sneezing or vomiting onto food or food-contact surfaces
- From touching dirty food-contact surfaces and equipment, and
then touching food
Simple mistakes can result in contamination. For example, allowing ready-to-eat food to touch surfaces that have come in contact with raw meat, seafood, and poultry can lead to contamination. An example is shown in the photo at left. Storing food incorrectly or cleaning produce incorrectly can also lead to contamination. So can
the failure to spot signs of pests in the establishment, because pests are a major source of disease.
Biological Contaminant microbial contaminant that may cause a foodborne illness; things found in nature (bacteria, viruses, parasites, fungi)
Chemical Contaminant chemical substance that can cause a foodborne illness; pesticides, certain materials combined with certain foods (lead wine with decanter)
foreign object that accidently gets into the food