Contaminated food is a huge problem in the foodservice industry and has serious ramifications for consumers and businesses. Contaminated food can cause serious harm to individuals, breach health and safety guidelines and negatively impact the reputation of a business or brand. It’s because of this that it’s so important to practice good food safety practices and mindful food handling to avoid contaminating food.

In this article, we are going to discuss the four main types of food contamination that you should be aware of. Whether you’re a food safety supervisor or working towards your food handling certificate, this knowledge is important because it keeps consumers, and you, safe.

The different types of food contamination

When it comes to food safety, there are four main types of contamination that you need to look out for. They include chemical, microbial, physical and allergenic. If you work around food, it’s vital that you do all you can to mitigate the risk of food contamination because it’s a legal requirement to prepare food that is safe for consumption. Below is a breakdown of these four types of contamination to help you understand and avoid them:

Chemical contamination

Chemical contamination in food happens when a chemical substance comes into contact with food items. This can be very common in commercial kitchens because of the regular cleaning and disinfecting that goes on there. This type of contamination can happen when you use a surface that hasn’t been properly wiped down to remove chemical residue or if someone is using a cleaning chemical in proximity to food.

To ensure that the risk of chemical contamination is minimised, you should always do the following:

• Keep chemical products away from food

• Always follow the instructions on cleaning products

• Cover food or move it away from the area you are cleaning

Microbial contamination

Microbial contamination occurs when food has been in contact with pathogens, bacteria, mould or fungus. There are lots of ways that this can happen in a kitchen environment, such as undercooking food or storing food incorrectly. For example, raw or undercooked chicken can be a host of campylobacter, which is a nasty bacteria that we associate with food poisoning.

It is an incredibly common form of contamination in food, but it can be prevented if you follow these guidelines:

• Maintain excellent personal hygiene when preparing food

• Taking time off work if you are ill

• Wash raw food thoroughly before preparing it

• Separate raw food items from other food items at all stages, including refrigeration

• Ensure the kitchen area is free from pests and germs

Physical contamination

Physical contamination of food arises when there is a foreign object that has come into contact with a food item. This is a common issue that can happen across the food preparation and delivery stage, so it’s important to be very mindful of it. Physical contaminants can cause a lot of problems, such as the risk of choking or breaking teeth.

A physical contaminant could be any foreign body or object that shouldn’t be in the food. This includes hair, plastic, jewellery or insects. Physical contamination can even stem from the equipment used, such as old kitchen walls with flaking paint that falls into food. It’s important to do what you can to avoid physical contamination by adopting the following strategies:

• Replace any old or damaged kitchen equipment

• Report faulty equipment immediately

• Ensure there is a consistent pest control solution in the kitchen

• Adhere to dress code standards such as the use of hairnets or the removal of loose jewellery

Allergenic contamination

Allergenic contamination happens when food that causes allergic reactions comes into contact with other food items. So if you use a kitchen utensil to handle a known allergenic food, you cannot use that same utensil on another non-allergenic food item. There are lots of different allergens to be mindful of, but the most common ones include peanuts, eggs, fish and crustaceans.

Allergic reactions can be incredibly dangerous, even life-threatening in some cases, so it’s vital that you do all that you can to minimise the risk of allergenic contamination. Good food safety practices go a long way here. Some steps that you can take include:

• Ensure all preparation stations, equipment and utensils that you use for allergenic food is separated from other food items

• When storing allergenic foods, keep them in separate containers and areas from other food items

• Regularly clean any kitchen area, paying close attention to areas that were used to prepare allergenic food items

If you would like to learn more about food handling and food safety practices, or if you would like to work towards obtaining a food handling certificate, get in touch with the Australian Institute of Accreditation today.