Food Safety Contamination Types and Causes


Food safety refers to the guarantee that must be given to consumers that the food is safe for consumption. If this is not the case then the food is contaminated. Food can be contaminated in different ways. Some food may already contain bacteria or foreign body but on the other hand food may also be contaminated if it is not handled properly. Food contamination can be in different ways namely:

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Biological contamination
Physical contamination
Chemical contamination

In order to prevent food contamination the food must be handled and store properly. This can be done by using and apply proper conditions and measures. In this report we’ll be seeing 3 cases of food contamination, the measures and solution that need to be taken in order to prevent them.

Case study 1
Question 1: Analyze and discuss the type of contamination and provide examples.

According to the information provided in case study one; it’s a case of physical contamination. Physical contamination can be any foreign body found in food. Foreign objects can include hair, plastics, wood or even jewelry. This case is a typical physical contamination due to foreign body found, that is the beetle’s wings (dark color fragments). The drugstore beetle lives in warmer and dry climate. It feeds on dry products such as dried herbs, cereal products, bread, etc. The factory is an excellent place for the beetle to live and feed.

The beetle’s wings were identified by a light microscope and concluded that it’s the Biscuit beetle or the Drugstore beetle. The record of inspection also shows that the insects were present earlier in the premises of the industry. This means that there had not been an effective pest control and those insects were not eradicated. The phosphatase test shows that the insects were exposed to high temperature during the baking of the biscuits, this result shows two possibilities:

The insects were already in the premises of the building and fell into the product during baking or,
The raw products used to make the biscuits (such as flour, herbs for flavoring, etc.) already contain the insects and were used without examined properly.

Concerning physical contamination, the contaminated food can contain any foreign object even condoms! August 2010, Philip Hodousek, a California man says he ordered a French soup and found a condom in it which he thought was melted cheese. He has settled a lawsuit against the restaurant: Claim Jumper. At first the restaurant denied that incident but after the condom was sent for a DNA test and revealed that the DNA present was neither for the plaintiff nor for his wife. According to City News Service, his lawyer rejected an offer of $30,000 because he was proved innocent and was accused of putting the condom in the soup to scam and to destroy the reputation of the restaurant. (Dennis Romero 2010)

By an early morning, walking alone in a subway you can get stabbed by a 7 inch knife but now the problem is you can get stabbed by eating one! According to CBS News, John Agnesini, 27 years old, found a 7-inch knife while eating his sandwich that he bought at a subway in New York. Luckily he noticed it at time and hasn’t got any physical damage but he fell ill with severe stomach issues for hours after eating it. He settled a lawsuit against the subway and the case seeks for about $1 million indemnity. (CBS News 2008)

Here are some examples of foreign body found in food which make them a physical contamination:

A man found hair in his steak at West Bend restaurant.(Dan Benson,2008)
A woman found a metal bolt in her hamburger at Applebee’s restaurant in Albuquerque.(KOB News, Danielle Todesco,2014)
A “nose ring” was found in a children’s breakfast at McDonald. (Taylor Berman,2012)

As we have seen, there a lot of foreign objects that was found in many restaurants or fast foods. This has negative effects on the reputation on the restaurants or on the consumer itself. Many precautions and control measures should be taken to ensure safety in consumable products.

Question 2(a): Effects of physical contamination.

Physical contamination can lead to many hazardous effects. One of the many is physical injury. As we have seen, the metal bolt found can lead to serious dental injury. There are also broken glasses found in food which can cause gum bleeding and injure the lining of the gut. Some foreign body can even cause suffocation as they block the respiratory system.

Foreign objects can bring along harmful microorganisms in foods. This can result in food poisoning. Objects such as hair, needle or condom can bring many diseases, in some cases: incurable.

Another adverse effect is for the establishment itself. The reputation of the institution can be ruined; even it can cause the organization to be closed forever at some level depending on the case. The establishment can make great loss because of legal actions and lawsuits. There is great loss of food as the food become spoiled and cannot be used.

Question 2(b): Controls to prevent physical contamination.

Physical contamination occurs by accident. Therefore, there are certain controls and measures to prevent it. First of all, the most common physical contamination is hair found in food. So, first of all we need to be sure that employees are following the policy of the institution. They must wear appropriate protective clothes. A human being loses 50-75 hairs a day; food handlers should wear a hairnet or a hat. Staff should not wear any jewelry and cuts covered with plasters should be waterproof and need to be tie properly as it may fall during handling of food. Staff should also be responsible as they must have good personal hygiene. For example: nails need to be cut neatly as it can break and fall into the food.

The establishment should have a good maintenance program to ensure durability in machine equipment. Broken equipment or machine in repairs should not be kept near preparation of food, this increases the risk of food contamination. The building also should be renewed as to prevent paint or other objects to detach and fall into the food.

To protect the establishment from nuisance, pest control should be made appropriately. Also, all the cooked and uncooked food should be covered to prevent dust particles or other foreign objects to fall in.

In spite of all the measures and security being followed, customer complaints keep increasing. But, controls and measures should be sustainable and to be followed all the time. Managers should ensure that all the security measures are being followed not only for the employees but also for the suppliers.

Case study 2
Question 1: Analyze and discuss the type of contamination and provide examples.

According to the information provided in case study two, it’s a chemical contamination. Chemical contamination is the presence of chemical substances produce naturally by plants and animals or introduced accidentally, which make the food unfit for consumption. This can be hazardous depending on the substance introduced or chemicals present in high concentrations.

As per the case study, Susumber berries are listed noxious weed in U.S. The berries may contain toxic substances but we don’t know exactly at what stage it’s the most toxic. As the berries were cooked and then frozen, we can conclude that heat don’t have an effect on the berries but the consumption number has an effect on the consumer, that is the third person consume a smaller amount of the berries and hence experienced another effects compared to the other two.

These conclusions are based on clinical symptoms and also the toxicity of the berries is not well known, so we can say that another substance have caused these effects. For example, chaconine poisoning was suspected and chaconine is found when potatoes turn green.

As we have seen, chemical contaminations could be due to:

Naturally occurring toxins.

For example, the red kidney bean produces a toxic agent (kidney bean lectin). The beans need to be cooked at high temperature for a long time to be out of danger. Other examples are: shellfish, certain fish such as the fugu (puffer fish), rhubarb and potatoes.

Reactions during food processing

At high temperature cooking such as grilling and irradiation.

Environmental contamination

It can be from residues from agricultural or other processes such as insecticides, herbicides, pesticides.

In japan, mostly all the villages in the village of Minamata were found to be contaminated by consuming fish. Industries throw their waste products containing mercury into the river. Fish were contaminated with these product and so the villages by fishery. (Douglas Allchin n.d)

In 2008, sulfuric acid and hydrochloric acid were mix with wine to dilute it. (Reuters 2008)

In 2003, veterinary antibiotic nitrofurans (which are banned) were found in chicken. This chemical can cause cancer over long term consumption. (FSA News Item 2003)

Question 2(a): Effects of chemical contamination.

The effects of chemical contamination can be determined by chemical introduced in the food and also the dose. For example, lack of iron in the body causes anemia but too much iron can cause death.

In some cases, effects can be both physical and mental. Substances such as mercury can cause handicap and even death. Other substances can cause damage to our nervous systems. But in light cases chemical can cause:

Abdominal pain

Also it causes loss to the organization as the spoiled food should be discarded and it must face legal actions.

Question 2(b): Controls to prevent chemical contamination.

Establishment involve in the production of food should:

Separate chemical equipment from the production of food
Chemical equipment such as cleaners and sanitizers should be clearly labeled
Ensure that raw materials entering the production line should be checked and labeled
Ensure that suppliers are correct, that is, they are using legal substances and in right amount
Inspect and control stock regularly
Proper waste management.

Food handlers should be trained and supervise so as they follow the rules and regulation of dosing or diluting any substances. They must know the purpose and function of the chemical before using it. Chemicals must be stored in designated storage areas or cupboard.

Case study 3
Question (a): Discuss the type of food borne illness.

Biological contamination refers to biological substances (living organisms) such as bacteria, fungus, parasites, molds and yeast that cause health problems when introduced in the body. Biological contamination exists in two forms: food intoxication or food infection. Food infection is the consumption of food containing bacteria whereas food intoxication is the consumption of food containing both bacteria and toxins (from biological source). Toxins are poisonous substances produced by a living organism which can make harm to human or animals.

According to the evidences provided in case study three, this is a case of biological contamination, more precisely it’s a case of food intoxication. This is because the bacteria clostridium botulinum and B toxin was found.

Question (b): Discuss the symptoms, sources and effects caused by C. Botulinum

The bacteria and the toxin were found in the in yoghurt. The hazelnut yoghurt can be considered as high risk food because of its protein content. The decrease concentration of sugar so as to decrease calorie in yoghurt can be a factor that contributed to the growth of the bacteria.

The reason for this outbreak is the bacteria found in cans of hazelnut puree. As it’s an anaerobic bacterium, it grows best in places with less oxygen. Usually this bacterium is associated with can food as inadequate processing of the hazelnut puree can decrease the pH of the food sufficiently to permit the growth of the bacteria. Due to the new formulation, decrease in temperature cannot kill all the bacteria. The rest of the bacteria that survive multiplied in the yoghurt.

Toxins produce by clostridium botulinum causes botulism. The symptoms appear after 18-36 hours after consumption. But the time can vary from individuals. If the person infected is not treated rapidly, it can result in death.

The early symptoms experienced by infected persons are:

Difficulty in swallowing
Double vision

The toxins produce by the bacteria can cause severe paralysis as it acts on our nervous systems. At first the patient will experience weakness in arms and neck. If this continues to the chest, the later will have difficulties in breathing as the respiratory muscles will be affected and later on, death may occur.

The most serious effect cause by the bacteria is obviously death. But that’s not all that the bacteria will do to a patient. The paralysis cause by the later can be forever. Recovery from this disease can take weeks or even month, some people never recover fully. (WHO 2013)

Question (c): Describe and discuss with examples two other bacteria, mentioning the symptoms, sources and effects, which cause food borne illness.

Listeria is the bacterium that is responsible for the disease listeriosis. It is mainly found in soil and water and some animals such as cattle and poultry. It can also be present in food made from raw milk. Unlike other bacteria, listeria can grow in both in oxygenated conditions (aerobic) and conditions where there is no oxygen (anaerobic). It can also grow and multiply in refrigerated conditions which make it very dangerous. Therefore refrigerated pates or meat spreads is not advisable to eat. But this bacterium is destroyed by high temperature and pasteurized milk.

The incubation period of this bacterium can be about 3-70 days. The infected person will feel weakness, vomiting, stiff neck and fever and sometimes diarrhea. Although it is treated with antibiotics certain measures should be taken to avoid it. A proper sanitation must be done to prevent not only listeriosis but other bacteria. A good sanitizer for listeria is alcohol. Kitchen materials such as knife, chopping board and the raw product itself should be washed properly. Ready-to-eat foods and leftovers should be heated to high temperature and consumed rapidly. Refrigerated food should be kept below 4o C to prevent growth of the bacteria. (Kenneth Todar n.d)


Campylobacter is responsible for the disease campylobacteriosis. It is recognize as the main cause of bacterial foodborne disease in many countries. It causes mainly intestinal infection. It is mainly found in raw or undercooked poultry, contaminated water and unpasteurized milk. Contaminated water is also a source of contamination. Many cases were reported because of contaminated water during recreational activities. But most cases it’s by animal or animal products. The major contributor to this disease is believed to be undercooked poultry which is contaminated. Infected persons can experience cramping and abdominal pain, nausea and vomiting, fever, diarrhea (sometimes bloody). This can be after 2-5 days after exposure to the bacteria. Although campylobacteriosis is not a fatal disease but 76 people die every year. This is due to severe diarrhea which makes the body lose a lot of water.

Beside those effects, there are preventive methods to limit the proliferation of the bacteria. First of all we must start at the base of the food chain. Farm animals such as poultry should be fed with uncontaminated water. There must be good water systems and also a good waste management because campylobacter can survive in its feces. Animals should be slaughtered according to the rules. Meat, especially poultry should be cooked at significant temperature to destroy the bacteria and raw milk should be pasteurized. (NCEZID 2013)

Question (d): Discuss the impact of food borne illness.

Food borne illness can have an impact not only for the infected people but its worldwide. It can have an impact on our social life. Some of the infected persons which have not recovered completely must stay in bed for the rest of their life and the medical care must go on. This can be costly. Cases of trauma can erect from individuals suffering from a long time. In another hand, some people are paralyzed for the rest of their life. It can also have an impact socially. If the outbreak is not controlled many people and animals can lose their life.

Another impact of food borne illness can be at economical level. Contaminated food and animal should be destroyed. If cases of contamination are reported in poultry, most of the animals should be killed and this results in great loss of money. Money should be invested to have a good water system in order to provide the animals with uncontaminated water. The farm should have a good waste management so that feces are discarded safely. Infected persons won’t be able to go to work and the level of absenteeism will increase. This will decrease the income -in terms of money- of our country.

Question (e): Discuss how foodborne illness can be controlled

Although cases of foodborne illness keep increasing, preventive measure must be taken to diminish those outbreaks. First of all, the organization must have a good food safety management as well as pest control system and good wastage system. Most of the cases occur by accident or due to inappropriate conservation method or mistake while processing food. As a precaution method, food handlers should be educated in types of foodborne disease, causes and preventive methods. Often we say that people are the key to prevent or to reduce foodborne diseases. That’s why staffs should have a good personal hygiene such as nails must be cut to prevent it from breaking off while handling food or the use of gloves where it’s necessary. Sanitation practices can decrease cases of foodborne illness. For example, if a knife and chopping board is used to cut a chicken, it must be washed thoroughly and sanitized before cutting other ingredients. Chemical sanitizers must be used to kill bacteria as it contains acidic solution; bacteria cannot survive in acidic conditions.

Storage areas must be kept clean and controlled regularly. Food items must be well preserved to prevent access to insects and rodents. Insects like cockroaches carry a lot of harmful bacteria. All materials used or food contact surfaces must be cleaned and sanitize before and after work. Cross contamination should be avoided as it may carry bacteria from one item to another. Food must be used before the perishable date. Industries using food in masse must get their raw products from a trusted supplier as bacteria such as campylobacter and salmonella is transmitted by infected water and feces. If the supplier or the farm proprietor does not have a good water system, all the animals can get infected.

Food must be stored in such temperature to avoid the ‘danger zone’. The danger is a range of temperature where the bacteria multiply rapidly. Food must be stored below 4oC and cooked food must be served above 63oC to be sure that most the bacteria are dead. Low temperature (below 4oC) make the bacteria inactive, after defrosting the food it must be cook rapidly in order to prevent the bacteria from multiplying. Pre-prepared food and leftovers must be consumed within 4 days and if in doubt, it must be discarded.

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