Contamination Explained


Contamination can be harmful or objectionable. Harmful contamination is a significant food safety hazard and contaminants include microbiological, chemical, physical and allergenic. All have the potential to cause serious harm or in some cases even death. Objectionable contaminants, such as small pieces of paper or plastic, contaminants may not necessary cause harm but will surely incur customer complaints and damage to the reputation of a food business.


Sources of contamination are everywhere, but can be catergorised into five distinct groups such as people, pests, premises, products and packaging. Knowing the source is the first step in controlling the hazard. Natural contaminants of food, such as, egg shell, bones, fruit stones, are classified as intrinsic. Whereas extrinsic to contaminants that have added to the food, including steel shot in game or soil. Every effort should be made to reduce risk to safety rather than just putting a disclaimer on the menu warning the customer about possible contamination. Remember a ‘due diligence’ defence is based on the food business operator taking reasonable steps to ensure food is safe to eat.


Contamination can start before products have entered the food premises with the ‘presence’ of contaminants. This risk can be reduced considerably by only using approved suppliers who are regularly audited by competent auditors and visually inspecting deliveries before accepting them. The introduction of contamination can result when food is in direct contact with source of contamination or indirectly via contaminated vehicles such as food and hand contact surfaces.  Hands are the most common vehicle to spread harmful contamination, especially pathogenic bacteria and viruses. Poor personal of food handlers is a major contributing factor in many outbreaks of food poisoning. The flow air around the food premises can also help bacteria in moisture droplets and flour and milk dust contaminant food.  Studies suggest that bacteria in small droplets can be suspended in the air for up to 4 hours and viruses for even longer. This deadly suspension can contaminate food and food and hand contact surfaces. Contaminated water splashing onto ready eat food or surfaces is a major food safety hazard with known cases of food poisoning throughout the world. But it is estimated that over 40 percent of people in the UK still wash chicken before eating it. 


There is help is at hand with some useful guidance produced by Food Standards Agency on controlling the risk of contamination in catering and food manufacturing environments. Guidance includes controlling allergenic contamination and the spread of E coli 0157 between raw and ready to eat foods.  The guidance is also useful in outlining the food business operator’s legal responsibilities for controlling contamination. Something definitely worth reading before your next audit or EHO inspection.


The risk of contamination and practical control measure are discussed on all our food safety, allergy awareness and HACCP courses at levels 1 to 4. We have open courses in Milton Keynes and London, but can deliver an onsite course at your premises anywhere in the UK.  Contact us now for competitive price on your next food hygiene and safety training course. 

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