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Food Contaminants

15 December 2023

Food contaminants are those things with the potential to contaminate food and make it unsafe to eat. The things that contaminate food are known as ‘food contaminants’.


Types of Food Contaminants

Food contaminants may be either:

  • Inherent, meaning that they occur or exist in the food naturally. Red kidney beans, for example, naturally contain a toxic compound and can make people ill if they are not cooked correctly. Properly handled, the food is safe.
  • Introduced, meaning that they are somehow added to the food. This might (for example) be a pesticide or similar chemical used when growing fruits or vegetables that can make people ill if not properly washed off, or something that falls into the food, such as an insect or a false fingernail.
  • Non-biological contaminants are things that are not alive; that is, they are not derived from living organisms or enzymes. (Some cleaning fluids, for example, contain active enzymes which are biological in nature.) Glass, plastic packaging material, and cleaning fluids that do not have active enzymes in them are types of non-biological food contaminants.
  • Biological contaminants are living organisms, microorganisms, or enzymes. For example, pests (e.g. flour mites), bacteria, and cleaning fluids that have active enzymes in them.


Food Contamination Examples

The things that contaminate food can either exist in the food naturally or be added to it at some point before it is eaten.

Each food handling business must foster a positive food safety culture. Failure to comply with basic food safety legal requirements is not only a potential risk to public health, but also a risk to the food business’s reputation if things go wrong.

The Food Safety Authority of Ireland (FSAI) reported that ten Enforcement Orders were served on food businesses during the month of November for breaches of food safety legislation:

Some of the reasons for the Enforcement Orders in November include: evidence that people were living and sleeping in the food preparation area; dead mice found in the ingredient storage area which is a part of the food production area, along with numerous mice droppings on shelving; ongoing cockroach infestation in the kitchen, storage areas and on the shop floor; large food storage containers found to be covered in food debris, dirt and cobwebs; evidence of mould and mildew on a chip storage container and on the chip scoops; inadequate temperature control measures in place for high-risk foods; no evidence to demonstrate that the food business operator was trained in food safety, with no evidence of a food safety management system; heavy deposits of mouse droppings behind the fridge, freezer and in the main food preparation area and in the dry goods store; evidence that food infested by rodent droppings was placed on the market; an establishment operating as a meat cutting plant, also producing meat preparations and meat products, without approval from the competent authority.


Online Food Safety Training

Please remember – it is a legal requirement that staff who are involved in a food environment are trained and/or supervised commensurate with their work activity!

Myelearnsafety offers fully online Food Safety (HACCP) courses.

To find out more, please check our Courses page.

Alternatively, should you need any additional information, please do not hesitate to let us know via email