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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.

Read more

Recent Cross Contamination Reports

Report on Food Poisoning Incident at here
On March 8th, 2023, at approximately 11 pm, I visited the Resort in Miami ,FL (address : 500 SW 177th Ave
Miami, FL 33194)
United States and consumed Doritos from the snack bar. Shortly after consuming the Doritos, I began... See More experiencing symptoms of food poisoning, including vomiting, headache, and diarrhea.
I visited the on-site medical center and was evaluated by a medical professional. They diagnosed me with food poisoning and recommended that I rest and drink plenty of fluids to stay hydrated. I was also advised to avoid consuming any solid foods until my symptoms subsided.
The duration of my illness lasted for approximately 24 hours. During this time, I experienced severe discomfort and was unable to participate in any activities at the resort.
I would like to report this incident to the management of the Resort to ensure that appropriate measures are taken to prevent similar incidents from occurring in the future. I recommend that the snack bar staff be trained in proper food handling and storage techniques to avoid contamination and the spread of foodborne illnesses.
In conclusion, I urge the management of Miccosukee Resort to take this incident seriously and implement measures to improve the safety and quality of their food services. Thank you for your attention to this matter.
Sincerely, | Symptoms: Nausea, Diarrhea, Vomiting, Headache
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I bought some Ruffles Sour Cream and Cheddar chips and my fiance and I both got horrible diarrhea. We narrowed it down, and had it on different days (we ate the chips on different days). I thought it might be a stomach bug. I ate a few... See More more yesterday and sure enough this morning it's back after it improved for a day. I'm seeing other reports of this and concerned there was contamination for a batch. | Symptoms: Nausea, Diarrhea See Less

After I ate ruffles I got diagnosed with a stomach bug
Reply 4 days ago
On February 28, I ate here around 5 p.m. and ordered their house salad as a main dish. The salad looked fresh, was tasty, and had no obvious signs of contamination. However, I'm in my 26th week of pregnancy, and thus am incredibly sensitive to any low... See More level food contaminants. At 5 a.m. on March 2, I had intense nausea that woke me up. I vomited twice, got body aches and exhaustion, and had diarrhea for the rest of the day and we'll into the 3rd of March before fully recovering. This was the first time I've vomited in years, and the combination of symptoms as well as the timing has led me to suspect that the food had some level of contaminants. | Symptoms: Nausea, Diarrhea, Vomiting, Body Ache See Less

Ordered a big zax snack. Chicken was very well over cooked so I think it was cross contamination. My chicken sandwich had no chicken inside, as the employees seemed under the influence so I think there was a severe lack of care in the kitchen. Had fries,... See More 1 ranch dipping sauce and a sweet tea. Felt nausea about 5 minutes after but shook it off. Next morning extreme nausea feeling and diarrhea | Symptoms: Nausea, Diarrhea See Less

helpful ty
Reply 2 weeks ago
My son and I went to get dinner here, and a few hours into sleep, he woke up throwing up. Confusion onset, green in the face, loss of color in skin, ultimately resulting in puking, and then seeming back to norma with no other symptoms (that he... See More could articulate clearly to me, then again he's four)... And then back to bed. Unable to keep fluids down, this process will repeat for the next several hours, puking almost like clockwork, every 45 minutes. The next day he was fine towards the early afternoon, just about the time that my symptoms started to kick in. This is a Bear family owned franchise at here, it looks like the evening manager or shift leader was under stress and under staffed (seeing as that order wasnt during even a rush period, only one car ahead of me in the drive-thru, nobody in the front room ordering, and it probably took 35 minutes to get my small fries and three value sandwiches that were bundled items). It seems like this rather new shift leader or evening manager, who is incredibly nice and hard-working, is often having to run the entire back of the kitchen, while helping with one of the other windows and all of the new employees are not properly trained (I don't know the man personally, but I do work for doordash and I frequently am in that location, as I live right across the street from it. This seems to be the common theme with every new manager or shift leader or assistant manager that works there. Then again it's there so, you kind of get what you get). Was HOPING cross contamination wasn't the issue, but all signs point to it. My girlfriend started to have the same symptoms, exhibiting them about the time mine started. I brought her food from there as well, and we all shared the same orders. I'm just now kind of getting over it though (Tuesday the 28th), however my stomach is still in quite some pain from all the heaving. We ordered early evening, approximately Saturday Feb 25, 2023 for reference. Again, my son's symptoms started approximately 3/4 hours after ingesting, and our symptoms began roughly 20 hours after ingesting (give or take). | Symptoms: Nausea, Diarrhea, Vomiting, Confusion, Stomach Pain See Less

I have been poisoned 4 times by impossible products Twice from Burger King. Once from IHOP. And once from impossible brats bought at Kroger. Each time after consuming the impossible product after a few hours I would start feeling queasy and sweaty which led to several hours... See More of VIOLENT vomiting nausea diarrhea and lethargy. The food and drug administration needs to get involved. I am literally scared to try any meat substitute at this point

The Kroger was in Covington GA The Burger King was somewhere in Florida and Madison GA and the IHOP was also in Covington GA. I don't think it is a contamination issue I believe it is the product itself | Symptoms: Nausea, Diarrhea, Vomiting
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Chicken and pancakes with side potatoes. Also had a couple onion rings. Didn’t eat it all. Woke up nauseous. Vomited most of the morning followed by watery diarrhea. Low grade fever and chills. Probably cross contamination.

Update 03/01: I am still sick days later. There is something... See More very wrong there. | Symptoms: Nausea, Diarrhea, Vomiting, Fever, Chills See Less

I went through here around 10 pm got in bed and ate and almost immediately didn’t feel too good but ultimately thought I just ate too much that’s why my stomach hurt . But no I woke up several times throughout the night sweating very hot complaining... See More my stomach hurt and then woke up to get ready for work at 9 and felt nauseous and dizzy tried to get ready but felt like I had to puke , I did puke and had to call off work. I’ve never had a problem with this before but this time it made me sick. Wont be eating there again if they don’t care about cross contamination ect. | Symptoms: Nausea, Vomiting, Sweating, Dizziness, Stomach Pain See Less

Had the best trip of my life. My wedding was there. Just got home and while it was the best trip. I have been very very sick since Tuesday morning, with extreme stomach pain, muscle pain, no appetite, exhaustion, diarrhea, gas, vomiting, nausea, chills, fever. I messaged... See More my butler and the wedding planner the night before leaving resort so they would know about my stomach issues and not feeling so well, but more importantly that they knew it was an important situation as 2 other guests had begun getting stomach issues. As of today 2 more have come forward with it for a total of 5 people. I am waiting to see who else and can update after. I am not getting better as I had hoped. The pain is horrible right below my rib cage center of abdomen. Figured today it's bad cause I actually tried eating for first time in 3 days. I am hoping it slowly gets better or headed to urgent care tomorrow. I truly believe this is all coming from lack of sanitation causing cross contamination. Every employee in the restaurants are touching plates and food and silverware with bare hands, no use of gloves. Juicing oranges is done without gloves, popping bottles etc.... while that may be allowed, if someone has a cut, uses the restroom, doesn't clean hands properly, it passes on to your food and internally to you. I would really like they and the other resorts to step in and see what is happening that is making so many people sick. | Symptoms: Nausea, Diarrhea, Vomiting, Fever, Chills, Stomach Pain, Gas, Muscle Pain, Loss of Appetite See Less

Saturday February 12 I stopped at here. I wait over 20 minutes for my food. I stood to the side of the counter and I could see in the kitchen. I saw one cook pass the other cook raw beef patties. He placed them on the grill.... See More The cook that passed the raw beef patties, then placed raw chicken wings in the fryer basket. He didn’t change his gloves. Also, neither cook changed their gloves and they prepared the ready to eat food with those contaminated gloves.
I ate there after 3 pm ghat day. I got back to my home in SC between 8:30 and 9 pm that night. Suddenly, abdominal pain struck me and I had to dash to the toilet! I was up ALL night with explosive diarrhea, vomiting, abdominal pain, and I became incontinent. I had defecated in bed 3 times and had to change sheets. I also had to put a diaper on. I am at the emergency room now getting iv fluids and medicine. I was diagnosed with food poisoning.
I notified the manager prior to coming to er about the cook’s cross contamination. I called the health department too! | Symptoms: Nausea, Diarrhea, Vomiting, Stomach Pain
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