Food production: The four types of contamination

Published: 26-Mar-2024

Repurcussions for contaminated food can thousands in fines, and even imprisonment. What are the four ways that food can be contaminated during the production process and what can be done to prevent these? Jake Michael, Writer for United Silicones discusses

Food safety and hygiene may not be glamorous topics, but they're crucial. Cross-contamination and poor manufacturing practices pose grave risks to consumers. 
Though food poisoning usually doesn't have long-lasting effects, the Food Standards Agency (FSA) reports around 2.4 million annual cases of foodborne illnesses in the UK, causing 180 deaths from 11 pathogens. 

In the digital era, negative reviews can swiftly tarnish a business's reputation, making understanding contamination vital. By grasping the different types of contamination, the food industry can take steps to safeguard public health.

Jake Michael from antibacterial silicone producer for food processing and the medical industry, United Silicones, discusses.

Food contaminated by microbes

Microbial contamination of food occurs when harmful microorganisms like bacteria, viruses and parasites multiply rapidly, leading to foodborne illnesses. This can come from various sources, including improper food handling, undercooked meat, poor hygiene practices, contaminated water/ice, and cross-contamination between raw and cooked foods. This results in the development of bacteria like campylobacter and salmonella transferring onto food items.

Microbial contamination of food occurs when harmful microorganisms like bacteria, viruses and parasites multiply rapidly, leading to foodborne illnesses

Robust food practices are the best method for preventing cross-contamination. This includes ensuring the meat is cooked to appropriate temperatures and controlling livestock rearing/slaughtering to prevent salmonella.

Additionally, properly storing raw meat and vegetables in the ‘danger zone’ (between 8°C and 60°C) can protect produce against the development of harmful bacteria that can cause illnesses to people.

Food contaminated by chemicals

Chemical food contamination encompasses the presence of harmful substances such as pesticides, cleaning agents, or toxins in food, stemming from mishandling, improper storage, or tainted equipment during production. 

Various factors contribute, including inadequate cleaning of processing equipment and chemical storage near food areas.

Accidental spills and cross-contamination exacerbate risks.

This contamination yields unintended health hazards, such as mycotoxins causing liver damage and cancer, and heavy metals like lead and mercury accumulating in the body, damaging the nervous system over time.

Prevention measures include adhering to thorough cleaning protocols outlined by the Food Standards Agency, separating chemical storage from food areas, and conducting routine equipment inspections to detect and rectify potential leaks or damage

Food contaminated by allergens

Certain foods can contain allergens that can trigger allergic reactions in certain consumers, with symptoms ranging from mild to severe, and in extreme cases, death. 

This results from cross-contamination, when allergen-containing foods come into contact with other products, even in small trace amounts. Improper food handling during the production chain and inadequate cleaning procedures are some of the main culprits of this contamination. 

However, allergen contamination is predominantly related to the presence of undeclared allergens in food ingredients or additives, with the UK government mandating businesses declare 14 allergens in food preparation.

Therefore, to prevent contamination, there has to be strict allergen management during food production, from segregating ingredients and utensils when making different food and correct labelling of allergen information on products.

Food contaminated by foreign objects

Physical contamination of food simply includes foreign objects like glass, metal, plastic, or hair inadvertently landing in food, posing as a choking hazard to consumers.

This can happen at any point during the food processing, packaging or transport process, including equipment malfunctioning, mishandling of produce or improper storage practices, or poor maintenance of facilities as well as the processing factory itself. 

Food manufacturing businesses need to remain stringent over quality control and safety protocols. 

This would ideally include implementing proper cleaning procedures outlined by the Food Standards Agency and using sieves to detect contaminants in the food for a more thorough examination process. Also, training staff to detect and report contaminants, as well as how to properly handle and store food, minimises incidents of objects contaminating food.

How can the food process industry mitigate contamination cases?

Identifying potential sources of contamination is paramount for the entire food processing industry to safeguard public health. Implementing comprehensive training programs through HACCP for all employees is crucial. HACCP assists food handlers and supervisors in cost-effectively implementing their food safety management system.

Emphasising the documentation of processes is imperative for supervisors and industry leaders.

Tek-Troniks' Refrigeration Control Systems offer real-time temperature monitoring

This includes ensuring employees understand how to complete HACCP food safety logs, detailing food delivery records, cooking/cooling/reheating records, and scheduling daily, weekly, and monthly cleaning.

Additionally, leveraging technology such as automated monitoring systems aids in HACCP compliance. 

Tek-Troniks' Refrigeration Control Systems offer real-time temperature monitoring for food retail, while Icicle ERP manages the entire production process. These tools streamline operations, detect contaminants, and ensure regulatory compliance.


Implementing food safety management in your organisation, ideally from the HACCP, is crucial for your food processing or manufacturing business to thrive. 

Failing to follow food hygiene guidelines can result in heavy fines of up to £5,000 and even imprisonment, courtesy of the Consumer Protection Act 1987 and Food Safety Act 1990.

By improving food safety knowledge and implementing best practices, food handlers, supervisors and the food processing industry itself can maintain high levels of food safety and work to protect public health.

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