What are the causes of food contamination?

When an individual bites on a partly cooked burger or digs into a cool potato salad, it is vital to consider the potential health risks. Every year, it is estimated that millions of individuals all over the world end up sick by consuming contaminated food. Harmful viruses, bacteria and toxins thrive in produce, meats and dairy products when proper food safety was not observed. On the other hand, understanding the exact causes of food contamination can help minimize the risk.

Poor hygiene

Certain viruses such as hepatitis A are readily transmitted to salads, shellfish, fruits and vegetables when infected food handlers were not able to wash hands after using the toilet. Contact with the food or utensils will pass the virus to others.

Food contamination can also occur when workers skip washing hands after handling meat, cleaning up spills or taking out the garbage. Remember that germs can end up on the buffet table and in the mouth when foods prepared by negligent workers were eaten.


It is important to note that food contamination also spreads when an individual has open wounds or a skin infection.

It is important to note that food contamination also spreads when an individual has open wounds or a skin infection. Staphylococcus aureus is often present on skin with blisters and boils. Food handlers who do not use gloves can spread the bacteria to meat, potato salads, cream-filled desserts and egg products. Since staph thrives best in room temperatures and multiplies without causing any spoilage, it is vital that infected workers should use gloves.

Unsanitary conditions

Poor slaughterhouse practices can lead to food contamination, especially when intestinal or fecal matter from cattle combines with the meat. Even a small trace can contaminate a whole group and spread E. coli that can be detrimental to humans.

The produce can also be affected. The contamination starts when vegetables and fruits are fertilized with raw manure or when the crops are irrigated with water that contains trace amounts of animal waste.

Unsafe preparation

Incorrectly canned food can form deadly toxins. Take note that low-acid vegetables such as corn, green beans, beets and asparagus are typically linked with botulism poisoning. For those who perform home canning, it is vital to observe strict hygienic practices to ensure safety.

Lack of storage

Since bacteria multiply quickly on prepared meats, stews and gravy at room temperature, immediate refrigeration of leftovers is vital. If food was left out longer than 2 hours, it is suitable for bacterial growth. Uncooked foods such as creamy salads should be eaten right away or quickly stored in the refrigerator. Other perishable foods such as eggs can harbor the Salmonella bacteria and must be kept below 40 degrees F to minimize the risk for food contamination.

Cross contamination

Once grilled meat is immersed in juices or marinades from raw beef or even the poultry drip on prepared items, cross-contamination occurs. Kitchen tools or cutting boards used for raw meat can easily transfer bacteria to other food or serving utensils. With this in mind, it is vital to wash thoroughly all utensils and cutting boards using soap and hot water between uses to minimize the risk for food contamination.


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