Food contaminant

Food contamination refers to the presence of harmful chemicals and microorganisms in food, which can cause consumer illness. This article addresses the chemical contamination of foods, as opposed to microbiological contamination, which can be found under foodborne illness.

The impact of chemical contaminants on consumer health and well-being is often apparent only after many years of processing and prolonged exposure at low levels (e.g., cancer). Unlike food-borne pathogens, chemical contaminants present in foods are often unaffected by thermal processing. Chemical contaminants can be classified according to the source of contamination and the mechanism by which they enter the food product.


Agrochemicals are chemicals used in agricultural practices and animal husbandry with the intent to increase crop yields. Such agents include pesticides (e.g., insecticides, herbicides, rodenticides), plant growth regulators, veterinary drugs (e.g., nitrofuran, fluoroquinolones, malachite green, chloramphenicol), and bovine somatotropin (rBST).

Environmental contaminants

Environmental contaminants are chemicals that are present in the environment in which the food is grown, harvested, transported, stored, packaged, processed, and consumed. The physical contact of the food with its environment results in its contamination. Possible sources of contamination and contaminants common to that vector include:

Pesticides and carcinogens

There are many cases of banned pesticides or carcinogens found in foods.

  • Greenpeace exposed in 2006 that 25% of surveyed supermarkets in China stocked agricultural products contaminated with banned pesticides. Over 70% of tomatoes that tested were found to have the banned pesticide Lindane, and almost 40% of the samples had a mix of three or more types of pesticides. Tangerine, strawberry, and Kyofung grape samples were also found contaminated by banned pesticides, including the highly toxic methamidophos. [1] Greenpeace says there exists no comprehensive monitoring on fruit produce in the Hong Kong as of 2006.
  • In India, soft drinks were found contaminated with high levels of pesticides and insecticides, including lindane, DDT, malathion and chlorpyrifos.[2]
  • Formaldehyde, a carcinogen, was frequently found in the common Vietnamese dish, Pho, resulting in the 2007 Vietnam food scare. "Health agencies have known that Vietnamese soy sauce, the country's second most popular sauce after fish sauce, has been chock full of cancer agents since at least 2001", reported the Thanh Nien daily. "Why didn't anyone tell us?"[3] The carcinogen in Asian sauces is 3-MCPD and its metabolite 1,3-DCP, which has been an ongoing problem affecting multiple continents. Vietnamese vegetables and fruits were also found to have banned pesticides.
  • The 2005 Indonesia food scare, where carcinogenic formaldehyde was found to be added as a preservative to noodles, tofu, salted fish, and meatballs.
  • In 2008 Chinese milk scandal, melamine was discovered to have been added to milk and infant formula which caused 54,000 babies to be sent to the hospital. Six babies died because of kidney stones related to the contaminant. [4]

Hair in food

There is a heavy stigma attached to the presence of hair in food in most societies. There is a risk that it may induce choking and vomiting, and also that it may be contaminated by toxic substances.[5] Views differ as to the level of risk it poses to the inadvertent consumer.[6][7][8]

In most countries, people working in the food industry are required to cover their hair because it will contaminate the food.[9][10] When people are served food which contains hair in restaurants or cafés, it is usual for them to complain to the staff.[11]

There are a range of possible reasons for the objection to hair in food, ranging from cultural taboos to the simple fact that it is difficult to digest and unpleasant to eat. It may also be interpreted as a sign of more widespread problems with hygiene. The introduction of complete-capture hairnets is believed to have resulted in a decrease in incidents of contamination of this type.[12]

Sometimes protein from human hair is used as a food ingredient,[13] in bread and other such similar products. Such use of human hair in food is forbidden in Islam.[14] Historically, in Judaism, finding hair in food was a sign of bad luck.[15]

Processing contaminants

Processing contaminants are generated during the processing of foods (e.g., heating, fermentation). They are absent in the raw materials, and are formed by chemical reactions between natural and/or added food constituents during processing. The presence of these contaminants in processed foods cannot be entirely avoided. Technological processes can be adjusted and/or optimized, however, in order to reduce the levels of formation of processing contaminants. Examples are: nitrosamines, polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAH), heterocyclic amines, histamine, acrylamide, furan, benzene, trans fat, 3-MCPD, semicarbazide, 4-hydroxynonenal (4-HNE), and ethyl carbamate. There is also the possibility of metal chips from the processing equipment contaminating food. These can be identified using metal detection equipment. In many conveyor lines, the line will be stopped, or when weighing the product with a Check weigher, the item can be rejected for being over- or underweight or because small pieces of metal are detected within it.

Emerging food contaminants

While many food contaminants have been known for decades, the formation and presence of certain chemicals in foods has been discovered relatively recently. These are the so-called emerging food contaminants like acrylamide, furan, benzene, perchlorate, perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA), 3-monochloropropane-1,3-diol (3-MCPD), 4-hydroxynonenal, and (4-HNE).

Safety and regulation

Acceptable daily intake (ADI) levels and tolerable concentrations of contaminants in individual foods are determined on the basis of the "No Observed Adverse Effect Level" (NOAEL) in animal experiments, by using a safety factor (usually 100). The maximum concentrations of contaminants allowed by legislation are often well below toxicological tolerance levels, because such levels can often be reasonably achieved by using good agricultural and manufacturing practices.

Regulatory officials, in order to combat the dangers associated with foodborne viruses, are pursuing various possible measures.

  • The EFSA published a report in 2011 on “scientific opinion regarding an update of the present knowledge on the occurrence and control of foodborne viruses”.
  • This year, an expert working group created by the European Committee for Standardization (CEN), is expected to publish a standard method for the detection of norovirus and hepatitis A virus in food.
  • The CODEX Committee on Food Hygiene (CCFH) is also working on a guideline which is now ready for final adoption.
  • European Commission Regulation (EC) No 2073/2005 of 15 November 2005 indicates that “foodstuffs should not contain micro-organisms or their toxins or metabolites in quantities that present an unacceptable risk for human health”, underlining that methods are required for foodborne virus detection.[16]

Food contaminant testing

To maintain the high quality of food and comply with health, safety, and environmental regulatory standards, it is best to rely on food contaminant testing through an independent third party, such as laboratories or certification companies. For manufacturers, the testing for food contaminants can minimize the risk of noncompliance in relation to raw ingredients, semi-manufactured foods, and final products. Also, food contaminant testing assures consumers safety and quality of purchased food products and can prevent foodborne diseases, and chemical, microbiological, or physical food hazards.[17]

The establishment of ADIs for certain emerging food contaminants is currently an active area of research and regulatory debate.

See also


  1. ^ "Greenpeace Exposes Guangzhou Pesticide Contamination". ChinaCSR. June 13, 2006.
  2. ^ TribhuMRatta (Nov 5, 2008). "Ban the Colas!". MeriNews.
  3. ^ "Toxic soy sauce, chemical veggies -- food scares hit Vietnam". AFP. Hanoi: Google News. Sep 11, 2007. Archived from the original on 2010-01-19.
  4. ^ McDonald, Scott. "Chinese top food safety official resign". NBCNEWS. Retrieved 7 March 2018.
  5. ^ Valdes Biles P.; Ziobro G. C. (August 2000). "Regulatory Action Criteria for Filth and Other Extraneous Materials IV. Visual Detection of Hair in Food". Regulatory Toxicology and Pharmacology. Academic Press. 32 (1): 73–77. doi:10.1006/rtph.2000.1403. ISSN 0273-2300. PMID 11029271.
  6. ^ "Food Quality issue 08 09 2005".
  7. ^ "Kitsap County Health".
  8. ^ John Lucey (06-01-2006). "Management Should Serve as Role Models for Good Work Habits and Acceptable Hygienic Practices". Food Quality. Archived from the original on 2007-07-14. Check date values in: |date= (help)
  9. ^ "Ohio Department of Agriculture".
  10. ^ "CCFRA newsletter". Archived from the original on 2007-09-27.
  11. ^ "Looking under the tables". The Gazette. September 20, 2006.
  12. ^ "" (PDF). Archived from the original (PDF) on 2006-08-23.
  13. ^ Justin Rowlatt (10 Jan 2007). "Does your daily bread contain human hair?". BBC News.
  14. ^ Amir Khan (1996). "Halaal/Haraam Food Awareness". Archived from the original on October 22, 2009.
  15. ^ Howard Schwartz (1991). Lilith's Cave: Jewish Tales of the Supernatural. ISBN 0-19-506726-6.
  16. ^ Commission Regulation (EC) No 2073/2005, Official Journal of the European Union, 15 November 2005, Retrieved 7 April 2015
  17. ^ Study finds novel method to test food for contamination

External links

Baby food

Baby food is any soft, easily consumed food other than breastmilk or infant formula that is made specifically for human babies between four to six months and two years old. The food comes in many varieties and flavors that are purchased ready-made from producers. Or it may be table food eaten by the family that has been mashed or otherwise broken down.

Bisphenol F

Bisphenol F (BPF; 4,4’-dihydroxydiphenylmethane) is a small aromatic organic compound with the chemical formula (HOC6H4)2CH2. It is related to bisphenol A through its basic structure, as both belong to the category of molecules known as bisphenols, which feature two phenol groups connected via a linking group. In BPF, the two aromatic rings are linked by a methylene connecting group.


Cancer is a group of diseases involving abnormal cell growth with the potential to invade or spread to other parts of the body. These contrast with benign tumors, which do not spread. Possible signs and symptoms include a lump, abnormal bleeding, prolonged cough, unexplained weight loss, and a change in bowel movements. While these symptoms may indicate cancer, they can also have other causes. Over 100 types of cancers affect humans.Tobacco use is the cause of about 22% of cancer deaths. Another 10% are due to obesity, poor diet, lack of physical activity or excessive drinking of alcohol. Other factors include certain infections, exposure to ionizing radiation and environmental pollutants. In the developing world, 15% of cancers are due to infections such as Helicobacter pylori, hepatitis B, hepatitis C, human papillomavirus infection, Epstein–Barr virus and human immunodeficiency virus (HIV). These factors act, at least partly, by changing the genes of a cell. Typically, many genetic changes are required before cancer develops. Approximately 5–10% of cancers are due to inherited genetic defects from a person's parents. Cancer can be detected by certain signs and symptoms or screening tests. It is then typically further investigated by medical imaging and confirmed by biopsy.Many cancers can be prevented by not smoking, maintaining a healthy weight, not drinking too much alcohol, eating plenty of vegetables, fruits and whole grains, vaccination against certain infectious diseases, not eating too much processed and red meat and avoiding too much sunlight exposure. Early detection through screening is useful for cervical and colorectal cancer. The benefits of screening in breast cancer are controversial. Cancer is often treated with some combination of radiation therapy, surgery, chemotherapy and targeted therapy. Pain and symptom management are an important part of care. Palliative care is particularly important in people with advanced disease. The chance of survival depends on the type of cancer and extent of disease at the start of treatment. In children under 15 at diagnosis, the five-year survival rate in the developed world is on average 80%. For cancer in the United States, the average five-year survival rate is 66%.In 2015, about 90.5 million people had cancer. About 14.1 million new cases occur a year (not including skin cancer other than melanoma). It caused about 8.8 million deaths (15.7% of deaths). The most common types of cancer in males are lung cancer, prostate cancer, colorectal cancer and stomach cancer. In females, the most common types are breast cancer, colorectal cancer, lung cancer and cervical cancer. If skin cancer other than melanoma were included in total new cancer cases each year, it would account for around 40% of cases. In children, acute lymphoblastic leukemia and brain tumors are most common, except in Africa where non-Hodgkin lymphoma occurs more often. In 2012, about 165,000 children under 15 years of age were diagnosed with cancer. The risk of cancer increases significantly with age, and many cancers occur more commonly in developed countries. Rates are increasing as more people live to an old age and as lifestyle changes occur in the developing world. The financial costs of cancer were estimated at $1.16 trillion USD per year as of 2010.

Coniochaeta hoffmannii

Coniochaeta hoffmannii, also known as Lecythophora hoffmannii, is an ascomycete fungus that grows commonly in soil. It has also been categorized as a soft-rot fungus capable of bringing the surface layer of timber into a state of decay, even when safeguarded with preservatives. Additionally, it has pathogenic properties, although it causes serious infection only in rare cases. A plant pathogen lacking a known sexual state, C. hoffmannii has been classified as a "dematiaceous fungus" despite its contradictory lack of pigmentation; both in vivo and in vitro, there is no correlation between its appearance and its classification.

Food sampling

Food sampling is a process used to check that a food is safe and that it does not contain harmful contaminants, or that it contains only permitted additives at acceptable levels, or that it contains the right levels of key ingredients and its label declarations are correct, or to know the levels of nutrients present.

A food sample is carried out by subjecting the product to physical analysis. Analysis may be undertaken by or on behalf of a manufacturer regarding their own product, or for official food law enforcement or control purposes, or for research or public information.

To undertake any analysis, unless the whole amount of food to be considered is very small so that the food can be used for testing in its entirety, it is usually necessary for a portion of it to be taken (e.g. a small quantity from a full production batch, or a portion of what is on sale in a shop) – this process is known as food sampling.

In most cases with food to be analysed there are two levels of sampling – the first being selection of a portion from the whole, which is then submitted to a laboratory for testing, and the second being the laboratory’s taking of the individual amounts necessary for individual tests that may be applied. It is the former that is ‘food sampling’: the latter is analytical laboratory ‘sub-sampling’, often relying upon initial homogenisation of the entire submitted sample.

Where it is intended that the results of any analysis to relate to the food as a whole it is crucially important that the sample is representative of that whole – and the results of any analysis can only be meaningful if the sampling is undertaken effectively. This is true whether the ‘whole’ is a manufacturer’s entire production batch, or where it is a single item but too large to all be used for the test.

Factors relevant in considering the representativeness of a sample include the homogeneity of the food, the relative sizes of the sample to be taken and the whole, the potential degree of variation of the parameter(s) in question through the whole, and the significance and intended use of the analytical result.

List of foodborne illness outbreaks by death toll

This is a list of foodborne illness outbreaks by death toll, caused by infectious disease, heavy metals, chemical contamination, or from natural toxins, such as those found in poisonous mushrooms.

Olfactory toxicity in fish

The olfactory system is the system related to the sense of smell (olfaction). Many fish activities are dependent on olfaction, such as: mating, discriminating kin, avoiding predators, locating food, contaminant avoidance, imprinting and homing. These activities are referred to as “olfactory-mediated.” Impairment of the olfactory system threatens survival and has been used as an ecologically relevant sub-lethal toxicological endpoint for fish within studies. Olfactory information is received by sensory neurons, like the olfactory nerve, that are in a covered cavity separated from the aquatic environment by mucus. Since they are in almost direct contact with the surrounding environment, these neurons are vulnerable to environmental changes. Fish can detect natural chemical cues in aquatic environments at concentrations as low as parts per billion (ppb) or parts per trillion (ppt).Studies have shown that exposures to metals, pesticides, or surfactants can disrupt fish olfaction, which can impact their survival and reproductive success. Many studies have indicated copper as a source of olfactory toxicity in fishes, among other common substances. Olfactory toxicity can occur by multiple, complex Modes of Toxic Action.

Timeline of the 2007 pet food recalls

This timeline of the 2007 pet food recalls documents how events related to the 2007 pet food recalls unfolded. Several contaminated Chinese vegetable proteins were used by pet food makers in North America, Europe and South Africa, leading to renal failure in animals fed the contaminated food. Both the centralization of the pet food industry and the speed and manner of the industry and government response became the subjects of critical discussion.

Adulterants, food contaminants
Parasitic infections through food
Sugar substitutes
Toxins, poisons, environment pollution
Food contamination incidents
Regulation, standards, watchdogs


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