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Physical Contamination in Food

Physical contamination in food can be a real threat to eaters. Recalls for foreign contaminate can happen for everything from ground beef to cookie dough mix. Contamination can accidentally enter the food supply during manufacturing or when it is being prepared at restaurants and at home. The consequences if eaten can be minor in the case of contaminants such as hair or insects. Allergic reactions can occur if an ingredient in the food was not listed on the packaging. Major consequences such as choking and possibly life threatening laceration injuries to the mouth, gums, or digestive system can occur if there are hard objects like glass, plastic, or metal.

Physical Contamination in Food

A recent cluster of cases tracked by the CDC in 2012 highlights the dangers to consumers. Six people in Providence, RI received severe injuries ranging from puncture of the soft tissues of the neck, causing severe pain on swallowing, to perforation of the gastrointestinal tract requiring emergent surgery from ingesting wire grill-cleaning brush bristles. 

So how does physical contaminants get into food?

Physical contamination can first get into food during processing. The USDA has identified 2 phases of processing, fabrication or rework, that have the highest risk of physical contamination. During fabrication, Metal, bone, rubber, plastic, wood from the line could accidentally be included. If further breakdown and rework of the products is needed for items like sausage and ground beef, metal and other physical contamination from grinder, mixer, chub clips, etc. can accidentally be included in the finished product.

Once it gets to the restaurants and homes to be prepared, there is still a lot more room for error. Both natural and man-made contaminants can be included. Foreign bodies from the prep area like: metal shavings from cans, staples from cartons, glass from broken light bulbs, blades from plastic or rubber scrapers, fingernails, hair bandages, dirt, and bones can accidentally be dropped in and served.

What steps are being used to safeguard from physical contamination?

Globally, HACCP is an internationally recognized system for reducing the risk of safety hazards in food and is widely used. It is a management system in which food safety is addressed through the analysis and control of biological, chemical, and physical hazards from raw material to consumption of the finished product. In the United States, The FDA Food Safety Modernization Act was passed in 2011 and it enables FDA to better protect public health by strengthening the food safety system.

Manufacturers use 3 primary means of physical contamination detection on a production line:

  • Magnetic separators (to find and remove fine, high-purity metal contaminants during food processing)
  • Metal detectors (to identify metallic foreign bodies in food during the processing stage)
  • X-ray machines (to see metal and nonmetal debris like glass, plastic and stones)

For restaurants and grocery stores, there are strict standards to ensure no foreign contaminants get into food sold at retail. Health department codes mandate the use of protection like hairnets, clean hygiene, and proper facilities modifications to ensure that foreign objects don’t gets into the food.

How to stay safe when eating out at a restaurant?

The best recommendation to stay safe is to stay vigilant and aware of the restaurant’s appearance. If the hygiene of the employees and the restaurant’s appearance doesn't seem well kept, that could point to bigger problems in other areas that customers don’t go. The biggest clue can be in the bathroom. If the toilets and restrooms are dirty and in disrepair, the back of the restaurant may bes probably the same. 

What you should do if you find physical contamination in packaged food?

  1. Do not open the container. Taking the foreign body out could damage the evidence.
  2. Take pictures as evidence, preferably in such a way that you can see the object.
  3. Keep the container in the freezer, so you can preserve it. Then, find your receipt so you can prove when and where you bought the food.
  4. Report it, this is very important and may prevent others from being harmed.

To read the current and past recalls, click here

To report a case, fill out the form on this website


Recent Interesting Reports

Target, 201 E Central Texas Expy, Harker Heights, TX 76548, United States

Symptoms: Nausea Diarrhea Vomiting
Target, 201 E Central Texas Expy, Harker Heights, TX 76548, United States

April 29, 2021 11:35 AM

“We went there and bought some Good and Gather whole milk, red label See Less
Reported By User

Thai Express, Petro Canada, Robie Street, Truro, NS, Canada

Symptoms: Diarrhea
Thai Express, Petro Canada, Robie Street, Truro, NS, Canada

May 2, 2021 10:33 PM

“Got sick 1.5 hours after ingestion 
Today See Less
Reported By User

Raising Cane's Chicken Fingers, South Euclid Street, Anaheim, CA, USA

Symptoms: Nausea Vomiting Diarrhea Nausea Vomiting Other
Raising Cane's Chicken Fingers, South Euclid Street, Anaheim, CA, USA

April 15, 2021 5:55 PM

“Myself and 2 coworkers have nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea 1-2 days after eating there, going on 3-4 days of illness now. I am 99.9% sure the source is them because that is the only meal we all have in common. We ate with another coworker at a different restaurant the following day and that coworker... See Moreis fine which leads us back to food poisoning from them. I will NEVER eat there again. (PS. not COVID! All vaccinated, Covid negative). See Less
Reported By User
SMB Screener

May 5, 2021 6:02 PM

“Company name: Frito-Lay
Brand name: Ruffles
Product recalled: Ruffles all dressed flavored potato chips
Reason of the recall: Undeclared milk
FDA Recall date: May 05, 2021
Recall details: Frito-Lay today issued a voluntary recall of select 16 1/8 oz. bags of Ruffles All DressedPotato Chips b... See Moreecause they may contain undeclared milk ingredients. People who have an allergy or severe sensitivity to milk run the risk of a serious or life-threatening allergic reaction if they consume the product contained inside the recalled bags.

The products covered by this recall may have been regionally distributed to Sam’s Club warehouses in Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee, and Virginia. Frito-Lay did not distribute these recalled products to any other retailer. No other Ruffles products, sizes, or flavors are recalled, including bags in Variety Packs.

- Ruffles All Dressed Potato Chips (16 1/8 oz.). UPC: 28400 56520. Code Date & Manufacturing Code: Both “Guaranteed Fresh” date of 1 JUN 2021. And one of these 9-digit Manufacturing Codes. 373205510 | 473305610 | 473105610.

The recall was initiated after it was discovered that certain bags of Ruffles All Dressed Potato Chips were inadvertently filled with another flavor of potato chips, potentially exposing consumers to undeclared milk. No allergic reactions related to this matter have been reported to date. If consumers have an allergy or severe sensitivity to milk, they are encouraged not to consume the product and discard it immediately.

Frito-Lay has informed the FDA of the action. Consumers with the product noted above can contact Frito-Lay Consumer Relations at 1-800-352-4477 (9 a.m. – 4:30 p.m. CST, Monday-Friday).

Check the full recall details on

Source: FDA
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Reported By User

April 21, 2021 1:00 AM

“Company name: Guan’s Mushroom Co.
Brand name: Guan's
Product recalled: Enoki Mushroom
Reason of the recall: Potential for Listeria monocytogenes
FDA Recall date: April 20, 2021
Recall details: Guan’s Mushroom Co of Commerce, CA is recalling all cases of its 200g/7.05-ounce packages of Enoki M... See Moreushroom (Product of China) because it has the potential to be contaminated with Listeria monocytogenes, an organism which can cause serious and sometimes fatal infections in young children, frail or elderly people, and others with weakened immune systems.  Although healthy individuals may suffer only short-term symptoms such as high fever, severe headache, stiffness, nausea, abdominal pain and diarrhea, Listeria infection can cause miscarriages and stillbirths among pregnant women.

The recalled products were distributed from CA, NY, PA through produce distributors or wholesalers to retail stores nationwide. The Enoki comes in a 200g/7.05ounces, clear plastic package with the description “Enoki Mushroom” in English, Korean and French, and Guan’s logo in the front.  At the back, there is UPC code: 810023170303.  Product code is RY3428A or RY3434A in the front bottom. The product is being shipped in a white cardboard box with 25 pcs of 200g.  The box contains Guan’s logo in blue color and product code RY3428A or RY3434A.

No illnesses have been reported to date in connection with this problem. The potential for contamination was noted after routine testing by Michigan Department of Agriculture and Rural Development revealed the presence of Listeria monocytogenes in 200g package of Enoki.

The distribution of the product has been suspended. Consumers who have purchased 200g packages of Enoki are urged to return them to the place of purchase for a full refund.  Consumers with question may contact the company at 323.223.1188. 

Check the full recall details on

Source: FDA
See Less
Reported By User
Doctor Visit: Yes
Diagnosis: Listeria

Volcano Bay, Universal Blvd, Orlando, FL, USA

Symptoms: Diarrhea Nausea Vomiting
Volcano Bay, Universal Blvd, Orlando, FL, USA

April 27, 2021 6:48 PM

Sushi and chicken tenders  3 people, Symptoms started Friday evening around midnight and we’ve gone to the waterpark that day and eaten there 
Friday night See Less
Reported By User

May 13, 2021 8:00 PM

“Company name: Asda
Product recalled: Extra Special (Free From Gluten) Frozen Vegan Mushroom and Leek Pie
FSA Recall date: 05/13/2021
Recall details: Asda is recalling its Extra Special (Free From Gluten) Frozen Vegan Mushroom and Leek Pie because it contains milk which is not mentioned on the la... See Morebel. This means the product is a possible health risk for anyone with an allergy or intolerance to milk or milk constituents.

- Extra Special (Free From Gluten) Frozen Vegan Mushroom and Leek Pie (170g). Best before All dates.

If you have bought the above product and have an allergy or intolerance to milk or milk constituents, do not eat it. Instead, return it to the store from where it was bought for a full refund.

This product contains milk making it a possible health risk for anyone with an allergy or intolerance to milk or milk constituents.

Check the full recall details on

Source: FSA
See Less
Reported By User

Starbucks, East Parks Highway, Wasilla, Alaska, USA

Symptoms: Nausea Diarrhea Vomiting Diarrhea Nausea Fever Vomiting Cramps Headache Stomach Pain
Starbucks, East Parks Highway, Wasilla, Alaska, USA

April 23, 2021 7:06 PM

“April 22 2021 stomach cramping all day. I needed to go to the restroom and had diarrhea 3 times between 12pm-3pm. Stomach cramps would not get better. Only worse. Around 9pm I was driving home and had to throw up on the side of the road. When i got home I had diarrhea again and started getting cold... See Moreto a point I was shaking and I couldn't warm up. Stayed in bed but had severe stomach cramps and nothing would help them to away. Fell in and out of sleep and going to the bathroom only to have diarrhea again. No more vomiting though just nausea. Got a fever and my body was super hot but i felt really cold. Eventually my joints started to ache. And got a big headache. Morning felt better but after liquids stomach still cramping. Started to think about what I ate. Had a dragon drink in the morning, but my husband had one too and he was okay. The day before I had a shrimp basket from Dairy Queen which my husband didn't eat. All other food we both had and he is perfectly fine. So I started to think it might be the shrimp. (But I'm not 100% sure). I have had the same symptoms when i ate halibut once before last summer which I had stomach cramps and vomited also. See Less
Reported By User

Grill N Curry, Irving Street, San Francisco, CA, USA

Symptoms: Diarrhea
Grill N Curry, Irving Street, San Francisco, CA, USA

May 13, 2021 1:15 AM

“Lunch from there Ordered garlic naan, lamb tikka masala, rice, papadum and lamb vindaloo. Had lunch. Within hour diarrhea. And then painful diarrhea 8 more times throughout the day and night, into the next morning. Did NOT eat anything else that day or afterwards..
5/7/21 See Less
Reported By User

April 19, 2021 11:44 PM

“The CFIA announced the recall of Co-op Gold Pure brand Organic "Protien" Peanut Butter – Crunchy products by Federated Co-Operatives Ltd. because it may contain almond which is not declared on the label. There have been no reported illnesses associated with the consumption of these products.

Peop... See Morele with an allergy to almond should not consume the recalled products described below:

- Co-op Gold Organic "Protien" Peanut Butter – Crunchy (480 g). UPC: 0 57316 19451 0. Codes: Lot# 202160 Best Before 30 MAR 2022, Lot# 200844 Best Before 30 AUG 2021
- Co-op Gold Pure Superfood Peanut Butter – Crunchy (480 g). UPC: 0 57316 19450 3. Codes: Lot# 200938 Best Before 30 SEP 2021 | Lot# 200843 Best Before 30 AUG 2021

Check to see if you have the recalled products in your home. Recalled products should be thrown out or returned to the store where they were purchased. If you have an allergy to almond or cashew, do not consume the recalled products as they may cause a serious or life-threatening reaction.

Check the full recall details on the CFIA website

Source: CFIA
See Less
Reported By User