What Is Cross Contamination In Food?

Cross contamination in food occurs when harmful bacteria passes from one object to another. This act is largely unintentional but is also very easy to do if there aren’t strict hygiene procedures in place. When bacteria is passed from one item to another, the food or area becomes unsafe. The three main types of cross-contamination are food to food, equipment to food, and people to food.

Cross contamination in food can be avoided by following strict hygiene guidelines in food preparation areas.

Cross contamination is a serious issue that can cause nasty illnesses and even death. Food businesses have a responsibility to their consumers to ensure cross contamination does not occur. This responsibility is laid out in the food safety act 1990, so failing to do so can have legal implications.

This is done through regular training for the staff so they are aware of the issues. It also requires each business that will be handling food to maintain good hygiene measures at all times.

Cross Contamination Examples

Cross contamination of food can happen during a multitude of scenarios but here are some of the more common examples.

  • Failing to wash hands after visiting the toilet or handling raw foods can cause cross contamination. Bathrooms are full of bacteria even when cleaned regularly and hands should always be cleaned after visiting the loo. The same goes for emptying bins, cleaning, and handling raw food items.
  • Cross contamination can occur when the same chopping board is used for multiple food groups. For example chopping up raw chicken and vegetables on the same, unwashed board.
  • Dishcloths and towels can also cause cross contamination to occur. The dishcloth that you used to wipe the chopping board with raw meat has now been used to clean the kitchen worktop.
  • Incorrect procedures for storing food can cause harmful bacteria to be transferred from one food to another. For example, placing the raw chicken on the top shelf and vegetables underneath.
  • Harmful microorganisms can also be passed by wearing the same pair of gloves for different food types.
  • Wiping your hands down a dirty apron and then handling food is another example of how cross contamination can occur.
  • Cutting through unwashed fruit and vegetables can also mean the transfer of harmful bacteria from the outside to the inside of the food item.
  • Cross contamination also occurs when a product free of allergens makes contact with one of the 14 allergens. This can have serious consequences for people with allergies.

Why Avoiding Cross Contamination in Food is Important

All of the above examples convey just how easy it is to allow cross contamination to happen in the food environment.

It’s why food businesses must adhere to very strict hygiene practices in their day to day handling of food. It’s important to realise that bacteria doesn’t need to be passed directly. Often cross contamination occurs due to indirect contact too.

Cross infection is a serious issue and can lead to cases of food poisoning where the business becomes liable. Situations, where this happens,  will ultimately affect the business’s reputation at the end of the day, leading to a reduction in customers.

How To Prevent Cross Contamination

There are many practical ways of ensuring cross contamination doesn’t occur in the workplace. Good food hygiene measures are essential to running a successful food business.

Below are some simple yet effective ways to reduce the likelihood of cross infection in food preparation areas.

  • There should always be separate equipment and utensils for different food groups. This should include chopping boards, knives, and plates. Colour coded systems work well with a poster on the wall for a visual reminder.
  • When preparing raw meats ensure hands are washed thoroughly before moving on to the next task.
  • Keep utensils and equipment clean between uses by thoroughly washing them. A quick wipe is not sufficient when it comes to cleaning food preparation areas and equipment.
  • Make sure the appropriate cleaning solutions are used throughout the workplace. Using the correct work surface spray and hand wash will go far in preventing food-related illnesses.
  • Having a good personal hygiene routine is essential when handling or preparing food. Hand washing, clean clothing, appropriate kitchen uniform, and keeping hair away from food all help to keep businesses hygienic.
  • Ensure food is stored correctly and food storage areas are kept spotless. Raw meats should always be well packaged and on the bottom shelf of the fridge.
  • Make sure towels and dishcloths aren’t used for mixed tasks – there should be separate ones available that are washed and replaced regularly.
  • Clean all work areas once food has been prepared before placing the next food item down.
  • If your business requires hand gloves to be worn when handling food, then make sure these are changed when required. Giving them a rinse under the tap is no substitute for putting on a clean pair.
  • Fruit and vegetables must be washed before chopping to avoid bacteria spreading to the edible parts. Never attempt to wash raw meats – this is not safe to do.
  • Never let food containing allergens come into contact with those that are allergen-free. These should be prepared and stored completely separate from each other. An allergen awareness course can help with staff training in this area.


To run a safe and clean work environment you must ensure you are keeping on top of cleaning regimes. You should be aware of the correct way to store food products and which utensils should be used for each task.

Personal hygiene is a must and of course, regular training should be sought. Online Food Safety and Allergens courses will ensure your knowledge is kept up to date and refreshed.

Further reading

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