According to the World Health Organization (WHO), 1 in every 10 people will suffer a foodborne disease after eating contaminated food, and about 420000 people will die annually. In children, especially those below five years, 40 percent of them get foodborne illnesses. What is even more shocking is that there are 125000 food contamination related deaths recorded annually.
Food contamination occurs when there are objects or microorganisms in food that are not supposed to be there. Contaminated food and water results in foodborne illnesses that are caused by bacteria, viruses, chemical substances or parasites in the food. Observing food safety precautions is essential, especially for those in the food industry. The repercussions of consuming contaminated food, especially the chemically contaminated, may be as severe as developing a disability, cancer, or death.
Food may be contaminated in the following ways,
1. Biological Contamination
This type of contamination is the biggest culprit of food poisoning and spoilage. Food is said to be biologically contaminated when harmful bacteria gets into it and starts to multiply. Harmful bacteria may be found in the following places; in raw meat, dust, air, human body, pets and pests or clothes of a food handler.
2. Physical Contamination
Food is physically contaminated if there are foreign objects in it. Some of these foreign objects may have fallen into the food during manufacturing, preparation, or packaging stages. You have probably heard of an experience where someone found hair in their food; or a worst case scenario, a cockroach. This reflects badly on a company and attracts nasty reviews and bad press that could see an establishment shut down.
To ensure foreign objects do not get into your food, those handling food should always wear a head net, clip their nails, and wear gloves.
3. Chemical Contamination
Chemical contamination in some cases may lead to food poisoning. All types of pollution, be it air, water or soil, may lead to chemical food contamination. For example, if you are in an area that may have a plantation nearby, chances are that they use pesticides regularly, the pesticides will get into the air, and once it becomes airborne, it can easily find its way into your packaging facility. This could end with the food getting contaminated.
Other chemical contaminants include kitchen cleaning agents and non-safe plastic food containers. Fruits and vegetables should be thoroughly cleaned with a vegetable cleaner to keep possible pesticides out.
This occurs when harmful bacteria and other microorganisms are accidentally transferred from one object or substance to another. For instance, contamination may be transferred from the packaging to the food. This could result in food poisoning among other health issues.
Those handling the food could also contaminate it. Coming into contact with dirty kitchen clothes, unclean utensils or raw food can cause cross-contamination. Always take precaution by observing personal hygiene, and use separate utensils to prepare different meals and ensure raw food does not come into contact with cooked food.
5. Problems during Processing
Here, culprits include environmental contaminants such as metal shavings, chemicals and pesticides that are used to run and maintain machinery. Contamination in the processing plant may be due to workers’ negligence, improper maintenance of equipment, or improper use of machinery. This is, however, not a ‘death’ sentence for all the contaminated food as some of the contaminants may be defeated after high heat processing or freezing. The rest, though, will call for immediate disposal. If maintaining your machinery is too demanding, do not worry as there are companies that offer a wide array of services; from installation, maintenance and operation.
6. Contact in Pre-processing
This type of contamination is prevalent, especially in slaughterhouses where the newly slaughtered meat is mixed with old meat and packaged together before distribution to butcheries. Safety measures should be taken when meat is in transit since some packages are highly responsive to changes in the weather, which could make contamination even worse.
Ensure the temperature in the transport truck does not create a conducive environment for bacteria and pathogens to thrive. This precaution should be observed in both long and short distance transportation since the hazards apply to both instances. For extra protection, make sure your food packaging passes the seal integrity test, which will confirm it is properly processed.
7. Offset Migration
This type of contamination happens when the printed surface of the food packaging transfers chemicals used on the inks to the food inside. At this point, you can consider the food contaminated since the chemicals have already come into contact with the food. This type of contamination mainly happens when the product and package are exposed to extreme heat.
Ensuring your food is safe is an integral part of healthy living. While contamination could occur at any stage in the food processing cycle, the packaging stage exposes it to potential contamination as well. To avoid foodborne diseases that are passed through contamination, four food safety principles must work together: clean, separate, cook, and chill.