Food Contaminants


The Three Main Types of Food Contaminants and Their Management

As consumers, we seldom give a thought to the possibility that our food may contain contaminants, despite the fact that when we buy fresh fruit or vegetables, it is an almost automatic reaction to run them under the tap before proceeding to eat or cook them. In such cases, we are probably ensuring the removal of any soil particles and insects that may still be adhering to a cabbage, or residues left by those who may have handled an apple.

These are examples of some physical and biological materials that may taint fresh produce, while chemicals, such as insecticides, are representative of the third group pf materials that commonly present as food contaminants, not just in fresh fruit and veggies, but in the many processed foodstuffs that we now consume on a regular basis.

To recap, the three groups of offending substances are biological, chemical, and physical, and their presence in edibles, though unintentional, does occasionally occur. To avoid affected produce being passed on via wholesalers and retailers to the consumers, manufacturers are obliged to conduct rigid quality control programmes that employ established test procedures of sufficient sensitivity and specificity.

Among the food contaminants of greatest concern to the producer are pathogenic microorganisms, such as staphylococcus aureus, E. coli, campylobacter, and salmonella species, together with the harmful toxins that some of them are able to produce. To eliminate such risks, strict standards of hygiene are vital, which will mean ensuring that work surfaces, equipment, workers, and their clothing are germ-free. Doing so will entail collecting samples from each of these sources and conducting suitable tests for the presence of bacteria and viruses. To ensure productivity remains relatively unhindered, the procedures need to be rapid, accurate, and suitable for batch testing.

Paradoxically, cleanliness can also be a source of food contaminants, although in this case, they are predominately chemical in nature. and arise from the use of sanitising agents, polishes, and other cleansing materials commonly applied to preparation surfaces and machinery. Not all chemical contamination of the food we eat originates in the factory, however. Due to widespread illegal dumping at sea, chemicals such as arsenic, lead, and cadmium are commonly encountered in tuna and other fish, which must therefore be sourced with care

Fortunately, somewhat rarer on the lengthy and growing list of possible food contaminants, although no less serious than some of the other unintentional inclusions one might encounter in a frozen hamburger or TV meal, are the physical entities. These have been known to include foreign objects, such as chips of bone or olive pits, metal staples, and even broken glass. In the absence of handy tests to detect objects such as these, manufacturers must rely on careful overview and strict protocols to ensure their absence.

In the case of the various chemical and biological agents that may tend to occur as food contaminants, a range of specific laboratory tests is now available. Often supplied in the form of kits and instruments with which to read their results, they provide the means with which to manage such risks, and to protect the consumer.

As a specialist in analytical supplies, including an extensive range of food testing kits from the world’s industry leaders, consult IEPSA for reliable, cost-effective quality control solutions.

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