News from CRIS: Trending - Food Contamination

August 8, 2023

What do I need to know about contaminated food and water?

Contamination can occur in many different forms by various pathogens. Documentaries typically focus intensely on one specific subject, with the latest trending documentary focusing on bacterial contamination at the production source.

Contamination can occur at any point in the food production to consumption process, but we have tools to help mitigate the risk to our health.

What types of food contaminants exist?

There are three main contaminant categories:

  1. Natural
  2. Human-made
  3. Human introduced natural contaminants

Natural contaminants consisted primarily of plants, fungi, insects, bacteria, viruses, and more.

Human-made contaminants include pesticides, unwanted by-products like acrylamides (formed naturally when cooking), and pollutants such as polybrominated bipheyls (PCBs) in certain fish.

Human-introduced natural contaminates typically describe metals or other elements like arsenic, an ingredient farmers regularly used as a natural pesticide in apple orchards decades ago. However, they can still be found in some soils and can make their way onto or in foods and water.

How do contaminants generally make their way into our food and water system?

Food and water can be contaminated at any stage of the food web and supply chain. It can occur:

  • in nature from the environment.
  • from farming methods.
  • during processing on an industrial scale.
  • during food distribution.
  • on our plates at home or in a restaurant.

Do government agencies keep our food and water safe?

Across the globe, regulatory agencies actively establish best practices to help mitigate the risk associated with food contamination. In the U.S., the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), and the Department of Agriculture (USDA) are the three primary agencies responsible for maintaining regulations related to food and water safety.

The FDA and the USDA have many processes and protocols, like Current Good Manufacturing Practices, that producers are required to follow to ensure our food remains healthy and safe.

What do we do to mitigate food contamination?

Beyond following required rules, regulation, best farming practices, and other standards, manufacturers use tools like packaging, preservation, and adding preservatives to foods to ensure they remain healthy and safe.

Manufacturers will also look at where specific foods are grown if there are concerns over plants absorbing heavy metal contaminates from the soil.

How can I mitigate the risk associated with food and ingredient contamination?

There are a few key actions you can take to keep yourself and your family safe.

For produce

  • Rinse your produce under running water. Rinsing produce will help remove unwanted dirt, residues, and potential pathogens from your produce.
  • Peel your produce. Peeling produce and then rinsing them will help remove unwanted dirt, residues, and potential pathogens from your produce.
  • Cook your produce. If you’re worried about bacterial contamination, cook your produce, including lettuce.
  • Consider your produce source. Consider purchasing produce grown hydroponically, which historically has a lower risk of bacterial contamination.

For animal-based proteins

  • Wash your hands with soap and water before and after touching raw meat.
  • Maintain separation and cleanliness of any area in contact with meat. Washing and disinfecting your work surface and cooking utensils will help mitigate risk.
  • Always cook meat to temperature. Do not consume meat that hasn’t been cooked to a proper internal temperature as measured with a meat thermometer.
    • Poultry (chicken, turkey): 165°F (74°C)
    • Ground meats: 160°F (71°C)
    • Beef, pork, lamb: 145°F (63°C) with a three-minute rest time
    • Fish and seafood: 145°F (63°C)
    • Leftovers: 165°F (74°C)


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