Chemical and Physical Contaminants


Biological contaminant such as viruses, bacteria, parasites, fungi,and biological toxins are the major source of foodborne illnesses. There are however two other kinds of contaminants that foodservice professionals must know because they can cause foodborne illness or physical injury. They are chemical contaminants and physical contaminants.

Chemical Contaminants

Every foodservice establishment uses a variety of chemicals that if not used, stored and labeled properly can contaminate food and beverages served in that establishment. Cleaners and sanitizers, polishes, pesticides, machine lubricants, and pesticides are examples of chemicals that can contaminate the food. Products used by associates such as deodorizers, hand lotions, hair sprays and other health and beauty products can also become contaminants. In addition, acidic food can react with kitchen equipment and utensil made of zinc, copper and pewter and create products that can chemically contaminate the food. The symptoms of consuming food containing chemical contaminant depends on the chemical used but diarrhea and vomiting usual are the symptoms. To prevent foodborne illness by chemical contamination:
- Supplier of chemicals should be approved and reputable.
- Utensils and equipment should be the kind that are made to handle food.
- Spacing and partitioning should be used to separate food and food-contact surfaces from chemicals.
- Chemicals must not be stored in preparation, storage and service areas.
- Never store chemicals above food and food-contact surfaces.
- Use and dispose chemicals according to manufacturer's direction and make sure to label them if transferred to a different container
- Make sure Material Safety Data Sheets (MSDS) are always available to employees.

Physical Contaminants

Physical contaminants are objects such as glass, metal shavings, bandage, fingernails, hair, staples and jewelry that get into food. It is also important to remember that bones in fish and pits in fruits are considered physical contaminants NOT biological contaminants.To prevent physical contamination, purchase food from approved and reputable supplier and establish a good food safety program that constantly emphasizes the importance of good personal hygiene. It is also important to inspect the foods before receiving them.

Deliberate Contamination of Food

- Deliberate contamination of food is done by people who intentionally add hazardous substances to food.
- Examples are terrorists or activists, disgruntled employees, past and present, vendors and competitors.
- They can do that along the supply chain or the flow of food.
- The best method to prevent it is to make it difficult for them to tamper with food.
- The FDA has given a tool how to develop a food defense program by acronym A.L.E.R.T.
- Assure supplier is safe. Look to make sure products are safe and Employees are trustworthy,
- Make sure defense related Reports are accessible, and know how to deal with a Threat.

Responding to a Foodborne-Illness Outbreak

- Gather information about the food eaten, symptoms, contact information.
- If is an outbreak, contact authorities.
- Separate the suspected products, and put a Not Use, Not discard sign on it.
- Document information about the suspected product such as sell-by date and product description.
- Interview employees who prepared the food about their health.
- Cooperate with authorities
- Review food handling procedures to make sure correct procedures are followed.

Food Allergens

- A food allergen is a protein in a food or ingredient that some people are sensitive to.
- Examples are milk, eggs, fish and shellfish including lobster, shrimp, and crab; wheat, soy, peanuts, tree nuts such as walnuts, pecans, and almonds
- An allergic reaction occurs when enough of an allergen is eaten.
- Some symptoms are nausea, wheezing or shortness of breath, hives or itchy rashes, abdominal pain;
- Swelling of face, eyes, hands, feet and other parts of the body , vomiting and/or diarrhea.
- A severe allergic reaction called anaphylaxis can be fatal.
- To prevent allergic reaction:
- Train service staff about the ingredients in food and how they are prepared.
- Try to suggest simple menu items to customers who are allergic to food.
- Try to hand deliver food to prevent contacting other food that contain allergens.
- Kitchen staff must prevent cross-contact by:
- Not allowing food with allergens be in contact with allergen-free food
- Not putting allergen-free food on a surface that contacted food with allergens.