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Infographic showing the food production lifecycle

How Your Food Becomes Contaminated

Before your next bite, take a second to trace your food’s journey. From preparation to distribution, processing, and production, contamination can happen anywhere before it makes it to your plate. Approximately 600,000,000, or 10% of people, get sick from contaminated food each year.


Whether it’s in your kitchen or a restaurant, when food isn’t cooked properly or raw food touches what you eat, these microscopic foodborne pathogens can get you very sick.

How It Happens

  • Juices from raw meat come into contact with the raw veggies on your plate.
  • Cooks use the same knife or cutting surface for raw items as other foods without washing it.
  • In a rush, a cook fails to cook your item to a safe temperature.


Odds are your food came on a truck. Before that, it was in a warehouse. When food isn’t stored right or equipment fails, a lot of unsuspecting people may eat contaminated food.

How It Happens

  • Some foods need to be kept cool. When it’s left out or the temp rises to an unsafe level during transport, it shouldn’t be consumed.
  • If the same truck that delivered your produce carried livestock the day before and wasn’t cleaned, your food could be contaminated with animal feces.
  • A lot of issues happen when safety checks don’t identify already contaminated items that weren’t stored properly from being distributed.


Your food wasn’t grown how you found it on the shelf. First, it has to be processed. This includes washing and cutting produce, packing meats, and assembling your frozen dinner. When these processing environments aren’t safe, a lot of tainted food enters the market.

How It Happens

  • Fruits and vegetables often get contaminated if they’re washed with water polluted by animal waste or human sewage.
  • When your pre-packaged chicken is handled by a sick employee or one who hasn’t washed their hands before it’s packaged, you may fall ill.
  • The surfaces in these facilities should be kept clean. When they aren’t, foodborne pathogens get into the final product you buy.


This is where ‘farm to fork’ begins and it represents the actual growing of the plants, raising the animals, and harvesting what we consume every day. When the food chain starts off contaminated, the entire system spoils.

How It Happens

  • A hen’s reproductive system became infected, affecting the yoke of every egg she produced.
  • The leafy greens in your salad came into contact with animal feces on the farm and those microorganisms eventually found their way into your digestive system.
  • Water from a contaminated farm well was used to spray the fields growing your fruits and vegetables before they were picked.

Safety Tips to Help Prevent Contamination

  • Clean – Wash hands and surfaces often
  • Separate – Separate raw meats from other foods
  • Cook – Cook to the right temperature
  • Chill – Refrigerate foods at the right temperature