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3 main food-borne diseases caused by cross contamination

Food-borne disease is a major international health issue which is caused by the transfer of harmful bacteria through cross-contamination. The World Health Organisation (WHO) revealed that 600 million people from around the world are affected by food-borne diseases every year.

This global threat is continuing to increase due to a number of social and economic reasons, such as complex multi-item food menus that use components sourced from all over the world or even food handlers travelling between different countries. These reported outbreaks which are found in 20-40% of cases and are thought to take place in people’s homes are usually contributed to dirty or contaminated utensils and equipment or undercooking foods such as meat. It has also been found that “eating out” has been associated with an increase in people experiencing food-borne disease.

3 main foodborne illnesses caused by neglecting hand hygiene

These are the three main pathogens that could impact a food business. Food handlers should, therefore, be aware of the respective journey of each of these germs:


Norovirus is one of the most common causes of gastroenteritis and is responsible for 90% of viral gastroenteritis. Its spread is usually caused by infected food handlers, and direct person to person spread is likely to be implicated in 60-80% of cases. For example, a huge outbreak of norovirus at a Michelin star award-winning restaurant affected 529 individuals. It was found that the cause of the outbreak was by oysters, however, there was evidence that found other routes of “spread” involved staff contaminating the environment and other foods. The restaurant should have taken action sooner, especially as the nature of the business involved a lot of food handling.


In many countries, Campylobacter is one of the major causes of bacterial stomach upsets. The bacteria are found as contaminants in a range of foods, especially raw poultry such as chicken. In fact, many reports have found chicken to be the main driver of this spread, with cross-contamination from raw poultry being seen as a vital transmission route. In one case, a food handler who was preparing a chicken dish in the kitchen for a conference meal accidentally contaminated a group of juice cartons when switching from the first job to the second. Many of the diners fell ill with Campylobacter, demonstrating the need for food businesses to have a good hand hygiene culture, especially when handling raw poultry.

Listeria monocytogenes (Lm)

Lm can grow at low temperatures and is widely found in food environments which allows it to have excellent survival abilities. Refrigerated foods must have a low Lm count at the end of their shelf life, this is typically less than 100cfu/g. The spread of Lm is not usually as low as the previous pathogens mentioned but can cause serious illness to those who are elderly, pregnant or immunocompromised. For example, in one case Lm was found in 70 environmental swabs taken from a Swiss sandwich plant and 16 product samples. 78% belonged to one genotype found on slicers, conveyors, tables, bread feeding machines, salmon and egg sandwiches. Cleaning programmes solved the issue of this which demonstrates the importance of environmental monitoring to identity the potential and early warnings of possible contamination problems.

In order for food handlers and businesses to avoid transferring the three pathogens through cross-contamination, they should develop positive hand hygiene and cross-contamination prevention culture to prevent the journey of these germs, before it causes a serious issue. Businesses will also need to implement a well-constructed hand hygiene policy which involves food handler health, hand hygiene and hand habits, and a glove policy. These will ensure control measures are fully understood and valued.

The journey of the germ: Hand hygiene, cross-contamination and the food environment

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