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Cross Contamination of Food: What You Need to Know

Cross Contamination of Food: What You Need to Know

Every year, an estimated 600 million people in the US are plagued by either hunger or food poisoning. In this article, we discuss the definition of cross contamination and list down the different types and what you can do to prevent it.

What is cross contamination?

Cross contamination occurs when harmful bacteria and other microorganisms are transferred from one substance or surface to another. For example, when bacteria from the surface of raw meat, poultry, seafood, and raw vegetables are transmitted onto ready-to-eat foods like fresh produce, vegetable salad, or cooked food in general. There are three primary types of cross contamination: food-to-food, equipment-to-food, and person-to-food and it can occur at any phase of food production.


Raw, undercooked or improperly washed vegetables may harbor harmful bacteria. Foods with the highest risk of bacterial contamination include leafy greens, beans sprouts, leftover rice, unpasteurized milk, soft cheeses, and deli meats.

Equipment to food

Debris and bacteria can transfer from kitchen equipment into food. This kind of contamination can occur simply because the equipment or utensils have been not properly cleaned and sanitized between each usage.


In the process of food preparation, people can easily transmit bacteria into the surface or food they come into contact with. In a survey of 190 adults in 2019, only 58% reported washing their hands before cooking or preparing meals and just 42% washed their hands after coughing or sneezing.

Food safety training can help reduce cross contamination at work and at home. However, the safest and most effective way to minimize contamination is by washing your hands with soap and water for at least 20 seconds.

How do I avoid cross contamination?

Preventing cross contamination is important to control or stop the spread of food poisoning. Below are some of the most effective practices:

Wash your hands well before and after handling food

As mentioned in this article, the best and most effective way to combat cross contamination is through thorough hand washing with clean water and soap - it does not necessarily have to be anti-bacterial. Doctors suggest thoroughly scrubbing the back of your hands, in between your fingers, and under your nails for at least 20 seconds. This practice is also applicable before and after you eat, after you go to the toilet, or touch a dirty item.

Clean and sanitize kitchen equipment before and after use

Aside from washing your hands before and after handling food, the next most important task is to ensure that you thoroughly wash all work surfaces, equipment, and items before and after every use. The kitchen towels used in the process should also be washed with hot soapy water and thrown into the hot cycle of your washing machine.

Handle raw meat packaging as carefully as the meat itself

Because E. coli could last for a maximum of 24 hours inside the packaging of meats and poultry, it is a must that you handle them with care. In a poll conducted in the EU, a third of poultry was said to contain Campylobacter. This bacteria can be easily transferred to other kitchen surfaces like worktops and push handles.

Always separate raw meats and ready-to-eat food

Most of the time, foodborne illnesses start from touching contaminated meat and that includes poultry and shellfish. So when you do grocery shopping, make sure that raw meats are put in a separate basket. When bagging them, it is advisable to keep them in separate bags away from all the other food. As soon as you get home, practice washing your hands before taking the raw meats out and store them in separate air-tight containers or ziplocks and freeze them if you're not planning to cook them within a few days.

Keep food at hot temperature (140°F or above) after cooking

Keeping food hot after cooking is not just important because you want to preserve the freshness of the dish, but ensuring that you keep the temperature above 140°F will then limit the growth of any harmful bacteria. Leftovers should also be consumed within three to four days. Even though they may have been cooked, simply reheating the food sometimes won't be enough. It should be thoroughly cooked again to the proper temperature. Leftovers that are stored in the fridge for too long can cause bacteria to grow over time.

Don't assume that your work surfaces are free of germs just because they look clean.

Bacteria and viruses are not visible to the naked eye, therefore it is particularly difficult to pinpoint whether or not the ingredients or the food you purchased (when you went grocery shopping), utensils, and surfaces are not contaminated. Just because the kitchen looks spotless or that the meat looks fresh, does not mean you are safe from contaminants.

Chopping boards

Before attempting to use cutting boards, make sure that they are deep-cleaned. An important suggestion would be to use two separate chopping boards for fresh produce and raw meat, poultry, and seafood. After use, the chopping boards should be properly washed using warm water with detergent and be left to dry. All plastic and wooden cutting boards tend to deteriorate with time. When the boards are excessively worn or develop hard-to-clean grooves, they should be discarded to ensure food safety.

Raw foods

Raw meat poultry and seafood are great sources of contaminants, therefore these should be cleaned, prepared, and stored properly. When preparing raw foods, separate equipment, and leakproof containers should be used. Never leave out raw meat for more than 2 hours as this can encourage the growth of bacteria. Meats should be frozen right away until they are ready to be cooked.

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Recent Cross Contamination Reports

After a stop this afternoon in the Morainvilliers area at around 4 pm on 1/10/2022, me and my partner had very severe stomach aches and severe bloating. We hadn't eaten all day. Given our condition, we didn't want to have dinner either. Just a hot water infusion.... See More The very severe pains continued throughout the evening, so much so that I was thinking of going to the emergency room. Initially, I made the decision to make myself vomit as much as possible, with a lot of difficulty, moreover. The vomit, liquid, was of an acidity unknown to me until then (and I am 52). I am now writing to you accompanied by a new hot drink, hoping that it will pass. For now, the pains have clearly subsided. I am not the type to complain, but it seemed very important to me for the safety of others to share it. In addition, I remain very surprised by the poor quality and the taste that I should have been wary of. In addition, for quick preparation, the burgers were barely cold (really not hot). We had 2 Maxi First beef, cola, potatoes + sauce, 1 chicken wrap, box of 9 nuggets with mustard and curry sauce and 1 cheese bacon (requested double but served triple). Remember, the order, paid for in cash, carried the number ES16 (unfortunately I did not keep the ticket). I hope that my condition and that of my partner will improve quickly. I was very surprised that the staff were generally not dressed to represent the brand, as is usually seen everywhere, but with personal clothing. A few did not wear overshoes and the majority (except maybe 2 people) did not wear a cap or a net to hold their hair. Initially, all this strongly challenged us. Given all these points about hygiene, we were not very surprised to find ourselves in this condition. I hope that my testimony will improve the situation and prevent further contamination. Sincerely. | Symptoms: Diarrhea, Vomiting, Bloating, Stomach Pain See Less

On Thursday, September 22, 2022, in the evening around 9:30pm, at this place, I ate a big mac and a few potatoes. The Big Mac was cold. No wonder, it's a habit not to mention the systematic order errors. I didn't want to be the boring customer.... See More Starting Friday around 4 am, severe abdominal pain. Diarrhoea, nausea Today is September 27, 2022 and it's still going on. I lost two kilos in 5 days. Pounds that I can't afford to lose. I need to do a stool test to find out which bacteria it is.
The night I went there, the employees were as friendly as a prison door (I understand that it's not the best job in the world for some people, but it's a job! Some people would dream of working here). Even if we don't like what we do for a living, we respect hygiene measures. These measures are put in place to avoid this type of problem. I am a fairly healthy adult so it's not as bad as a child or someone frail.
I want to be compensated for this incident if the test results confirm this contamination. | Symptoms: Diarrhea, Nausea, Stomach Pain
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Ordered takeout from there around 8pm 8/28, then woke up around 2am with vomiting and diarrhea that lasted until 11am the next morning. The last meal I had before this was a homemade breakfast early in the day, so this was the only possible source of contamination. | Symptoms: Nausea, Diarrhea, Vomiting See Less

I'm not sure which food was it. But while I was eating my order, I already felt my stomach and started sweating. I started to feel nauseous. After a couple of hours, I started vomiting. While on the other hand, my brother's stomach started acting up as... See More well. I'm pretty sure that this is food poisoning or cross-contamination. I haven't eaten some of the food. | Symptoms: Nausea, Diarrhea, Vomiting, Sweating, Stomach Pain See Less

I am just recovering from a very aggressive food poisoning episode after eating a tub of Haagen Daz Strawberry Cheesecake Ice cream sold by that store. I was violently ill with vomiting and diarrhea which lasted 30 hours and whereby I couldn't even retain water in my... See More system.

I believe that due to breakdowns of your freezer units, items have been refrozen once the problem has been discovered resulting in bacterial contamination. I believe the batch number is PS 8270039 ACS1020, 210423 T17A 00:43 111.

Prior to reporting this to the Health department in Denia, I have decided to notify you as this is not the first time I have had problems with the food from this store. I have previously bought fish from the 'Fresh Fish Counter' which has also been rotten and stinking when I got it home. This was also relatively recently and I therefore feel there is a problem with your processes, equipment, training, staff or management in this store....or perhaps with all of these areas.

I am 63 years old and I can imagine that this poisoning may have proved fatal to an older person or to a young child.

Why do I think the fault lay with this product? Because I had a portion the night before and in the morning was presented with diarrhoea. Not associating the cause and effect, I later had some more after Lunch at about 4pm and finished the container at 5pm. By 6pm the bouts of vomiting and diarrhoea began. | Symptoms: Diarrhea, Vomiting
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My 6 month old baby had Ella's kitchen foods on from 12th August onwards and on 13th August 2022 morning, he became extremely ill with fever upto 39.6, diarrhoea upto 25 plus stools in 12 hours, blood in stool and even blood in urine after a few... See More hours leading to very painful nappy rash. He was found to have salmonella typhi poisoning. He has still not fully recovered despite intravenous antibiotics and oral. They couldnt manage to get the cannula in again when he pulled it out after the first IV antibiotic (due to small veins) so they had to give him intramuscular antibiotics on 2nd day and then oral ones after that. All the foods he had were from Ella's Kitchen and unfortunately I am not sure which foods he had on the day. He also had the bread and vanilla banana pudding which has been recalled now due to microbacterial contamination but he had that on 15th August whereas he became ill 2 days prior and I can't remember if I gave him the banana and vanilla pudding then or something else so I am not sure which food caused it. No one else was sick in the house and this type of food poisoning was not expected in a baby as he has only baby food which he had just recently started. We bought Ella's kitchen foods from London Tesco in Borehamwood as well as from Amazon Morrisons online. Amazon receipts are attached however I did not keep the Tesco one. He initially became ill after the tesco foods but it didnt occur to me that the baby food might have caused it so he continued having them until he was too ill to eat for 2 days after which he resumed having them and has consumed them all. I had only bought about 5 of them from Tesco. I had a few others I can't recall the names of all of them but some of them were banana and coconut, strawberries and apple, apples carrots and parsnips. I also bought the melty sticks in corn flavour and basil flavour. It occurred to me that baby food could be cause but I put that thought aside as I thought extra care must be taken of hygiene in baby foods! After I received the warning about the bread and vanilla pudding which my baby has consumed all 6 tubs of over the last week, I realised it must have been the food as there was no exposure outside and my baby only became ill after starting the baby foods. | Symptoms: Diarrhea, Bloody Stool, Fever See Less

Living bugs found in unopened packaging of pasta. We ate some from it and only then noticed the creatures. Checked other unopened packs we have in our pantry, and they had the same contamination. Rice as well. Reported to Bromley Council and store themselves. We’ll see if... See More they’ll react. Happy shopping. | Symptoms: Nausea, Vomiting See Less

7/16/2022 Wife and I enjoyed and were meticulously careful with cheese, chicken, steak, and chocolate fondue. We both are OCD careful with food... but we can’t control the cleanliness of the table, surfaces, etc... we are sure cross contamination caused this. We both had horrible diarrhea within... See More 1 hour of finishing the meal. Later that night... I developed a fever and I could not walk, dizziness and lethargy, zero appetite for two days now, stayed hydrated, felt like I was dying.... worst feeling of my life. Never going here again. | Symptoms: Nausea, Diarrhea, Vomiting, Fever, Dizziness, Loss of Appetite See Less

Ate one of their chicken sandwiches and had bad stomach and abdominal cramps, projectile vomiting and diarrhea within a few hours after eating one. Think it may have been the pickles...which is disturbing as pickles don't tend to spoil easily, and leads me to believe toppings aren't... See More being stored or handled properly at this location. Toppings have to be kept at a consistently cold temperature and completely free of cross-contamination with other foods and sources, and must be rotated out regularly for fresh product to prevent things just like this. Won't be buying from this location or any of their location ever again. | Symptoms: Nausea, Diarrhea, Vomiting, Cramps See Less

Chips there. My daughter also had chips and was totally fine. All my symptoms happened with 2 hrs of eating. I am severely allergic to Quorn/mycoprotein and fear contamination in the preparation of my snack | Symptoms: Nausea, Diarrhea, Vomiting See Less

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