The U.S Public Health Service identifies over 40 diseases that can be transmitted through food. Many can cause serious illness; some can be deadly. Understanding what causes food-borne illnesses and what can prevent them will help keep your food and family safe.
Foods can be contaminated in several ways: biological, chemical and physical contamination. Each of these contaminants can occur through either direct contamination or cross contamination.
Direct contamination occurs when raw food or the plants and animals from which they come, in their natural setting or habitat, are contaminated by chemical or biological contaminants that are present in the air, soil or water. Example: shellfish being contaminated by ingesting toxic marine algae.
Cross-contamination occurs when chemicals or microorganisms are transported to food while processing, preparing, cooking or serving it. The major cause of cross contamination is people during food handling.
Biological examples include microorganisms such as bacteria, molds, yeasts, viruses, parasites or fungi.
Chemical examples include cleaning agents, pesticides, naturally occurring chemicals (food allergens) and toxic metals.
Physical contaminant examples include glass chips, metal shavings, hair, or other foreign matter.
Correct sanitation measures can help correct problems caused by direct contamination and prevent problems caused by cross-contamination. CSU offers a Cleaning and Sanitizing the Kitchen guide that consumers can use to help protect themselves from possible food related illness. Be sure to also print out the Kitchen Companion put out by the USDA, Food Safety and Inspection Service. The Kitchen Companion covers hand washing to food safety in an emergency, this food safety handbook contains all the basic information you need to know about food safety – all in one place!
Proper handwashing techniques can also help prevent cross contamination.