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Last updated: 20.05.22

How to Prevent Cross-Contamination in Food

How to Prevent Cross-Contamination in Food

When working in the food industry, it is important to be aware of how to prepare and serve food properly to reduce the risks of any food-related illnesses. Cross-contamination is one of the biggest risk factors when you’re preparing and storing food, which is why it is important to understand the different types and how to avoid it from happening.

Being aware of the different legislation regarding food health and safety and cross-contamination is also important if you’re a food business, because failing to meet relevant standards could result in legal issues and customer complaints. The purpose of this article is to ensure that you are fully informed on food cross-contamination including what it is, the risks associated and how to prevent it.

What is Food Cross-Contamination?

When biological, physical or chemical contaminants travel from one place and contact our food, this is known as cross-contamination. This form of food contamination can cause serious health and safety problems, especially for restaurants or other businesses storing food for long periods.

Cross-contamination can either be done from food to food, from a person to food, or from an object or place that comes into contact with the food. The most common example of contamination is from one food to another, this usually occurs when ready-to-eat foods touch raw meats that are contaminated with harmful bacteria.

Being well-informed on food safety can have many benefits, as it helps to prevent illnesses caused by improper food preparation and storage. There are legal guidelines in the UK which affect businesses that handle and serve food, which are managed by the Food Standards Agency.

There are many ways in which cross-contamination can happen, which can vary depending on the type of food you are working with and where it has come from. In order to be well-informed in this area, it is useful to know all the different contaminants. Below displays the main types of contamination in food to look out for.

Biological Contamination 

Biological contamination occurs when food becomes contaminated by an organism or another substance produced by a food product. These contaminants are often harmful germs that can cause a variety of illnesses in humans when ingested.

Bacteria

Bacteria usually causes food poisoning and is commonly caused by things like not heating food properly, cooking raw meat incorrectly, unpasteurized milk and improper preparation of fruit and vegetables. A common example of biological contamination is Salmonella bacteria, which lives in the intestinal tract of animals and leads to their meat becoming contaminated when the animal is infected with the disease. 

Viruses

Undercooked seafood or contaminated raw produce can contain noroviruses, an example of which could be Hepatitis A. However, instances of viruses in food generally come from the food handler, who has to already be infected. 

Parasites

There are many different parasites that have various ways of getting into our food. Some parasites come from the soil and tend to contaminate fresh produce, and other parasites such as tapeworms come from direct contact with animals and food.

Prions

Prions are infectious agents formed of misfolded proteins, which carry a very high risk of neurodegenerative disease if contracted. The best-known example of prion contamination is ‘mad cow disease’ which was found in cattle and then transferred to humans through animal meat.

Physical Contamination

Physical contamination refers to a foreign object coming into contact with food. It can happen at any point in the food process chain, for example during the packaging process, the food could become contaminated with a piece of plastic, which could get into the food and present a choking hazard.

Chemical Contamination

Chemical contamination can occur through either natural or artificial chemical substances that have come into contact with food. An example of a chemical that has been found to contaminate products is pesticides, which are transferred from the soil in which food is grown and it can also happen during the manufacturing process

Being aware of the different types of contamination in food and the risks that are associated with them is incredibly important when it comes to preventing contamination and keeping people safe. Many food establishments in the UK are now monitored and checked by food standards and have to meet certain criteria to be legally allowed to serve food to the public. 

The Risks of Cross-Contamination in Food

Cross contamination can occur from food to food, or from surfaces, hands and equipment to food or other items. A key part of understanding how to prevent cross-contamination is to know the potential risks associated with it.

The harmful bacteria that can be involved in cross contamination can cause food poisoning, which is probably the most common hazard. There are many different types of food poisoning that often come as a result of food cross-contamination, which can cause other problems and all depend on how badly affected the person is. In many cases, food poisoning makes the person ill and bed-bound for at least a day or two, but in serious instances, it can leave the person critically ill and hospitalized, depending on the type of contamination. 

It is especially important that those at higher risk, such as pregnant women, take extra care with their food to avoid any bacteria from cross contamination. Listeria infection in particular has been known to lead to miscarriage in pregnant women and can be found in unpasteurised dairy products and other read-to-eat foods.

Chemical contamination carries the risk of poisoning, as the substances present in things like cleaning products can be incredibly harmful if ingested, even in small doses. Cases of chemical contamination can be very serious and are often very hard to treat, which is why avoiding this kind of contamination is so important.

Physical contamination can come from foreign objects that get into our food, which has the potential to cause the consumer to choke and can be life-threatening in severe cases. Checking food for any physical contaminants is essential when preparing and serving food to others, especially if your customers are very young or very old.

When working in the food industry, it is vital that guidelines are followed which are set and regulated by the Food Standards Agency to ensure that cross-contamination does not occur, as you run the risk of legal action if you don’t meet the appropriate safety standards. The different food laws in the UK are: 

If these regulations are not followed, customers may become ill and your business could be at risk of everything from gaining a bad reputation to have to close down. 

How to Prevent Cross-Contamination in Food

It’s useful to be aware of the different types of cross-contamination and the risks associated with it, but what is most important is understanding how to prevent it in order to avoid any food-related illnesses.

There are a few different ways to avoid cross-contamination in a kitchen environment, which are explained below.

Store Food Properly

No matter the size of your kitchen, it is vital to ensure that food is stored correctly, especially raw meat which can easily develop bacteria that can contaminate other ready-to-eat foods. Follow appropriate guidelines for storing your food in the fridge and freezer, and always keep opened products in sealed containers to avoid any contaminants entering the packaging.

Covering raw food, keeping it separate and storing it on the bottom shelf of the refrigerator are all useful ways to store food properly to prevent cross-contamination. If raw food drips or spills in the fridge, disinfect and wipe this immediately to prevent bacteria growth.

Use Separate Utensils

When working with food, it is essential that you use separate utensils for different products to prevent any contaminants from certain ingredients coming into contact with others. All utensils should be washed thoroughly after use so that they are clean for when they need to be used again. 

Washing and using separate utensils also includes the use of plates, cutlery, knives and anything else that comes into contact with food. 

Disinfect Surfaces

All kinds of contaminants are often found on the surfaces around a kitchen, whether these are from food products, cleaning products or the people that have been working in the space. Before any kind of food preparation takes place, all surfaces should be thoroughly disinfected to prevent contamination.

After food products like raw meat and eggs have been in contact with any surface, it is vital that the area is then fully disinfected again before anything else touches it. This will help avoid cross-contamination in food as well as keeping an overall hygienic kitchen environment.

Wash Your Hands

Preparing food for others must be done in a sanitary manner to ensure the health and safety of the consumer. Washing hands thoroughly throughout the process will help ensure that you are not spreading germs or bacteria onto the food, which will then lower the risk of the consumer becoming ill.

Use Shopping Bags Properly

When shopping for ingredients, ensuring you have enough bags to pack raw meat separate from the rest of the groceries can help prevent bacterial contamination. Replace old plastic bags regularly and bin any that have any meat juice spillages on them.

Packing cleaning products and other household products separate from food will also help avoid chemical contamination.

FAQs

What causes cross-contamination in food?

Cross-contamination in food is caused by bacteria that transfer from one food to another. It frequently happens when raw meat touches already prepared food or bacteria is transferred between products through utensils or surfaces.

How do you avoid food cross-contamination?

Food cross-contamination can be avoided in a number of ways and starts from purchasing the food right through to serving it. Using separate shopping bags for meat, washing hands and surfaces often, using separate utensils for different ingredients, storing food properly and ensuring that separate shelves are used to store products can all help to avoid cross-contamination. 

How do you prevent cross-contamination in the food storage area? 

To prevent cross-contamination in the food storage area it is important to cover raw food products and any opened products and keep them separate from sealed or ready-to-eat food. When storing food in the fridge, it is best to keep meat and fish on the bottom shelf to ensure they do not drip onto other ingredients.

Summary

Cross-contamination in food can be very dangerous, which is why it is so important for any businesses handling, storing or serving food to be aware of the risks and how to prevent them. However, following the steps above will help ensure this, whilst also ensuring that the kitchen and ingredients are kept clean.


If you would like more information on food safety and cross-contamination, have a browse through a range of our online Food and Hygiene courses.

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