Food safety

How quickly can bacterial contamination occur & what is the best way to avoid it?

The best way to avoid bacterial contamination is to apply strict food safety practices. The growth of bacteria is ...

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  • The best way to avoid bacterial contamination is to apply strict food safety practices.
  • The growth of bacteria is affected by the acidity, moisture level, and initial microbial load of the food as well as the temperature and presence of oxygen in the surroundings.
  • Bacterial contamination can occur within 20 minutes to the first 2 hours at favorable conditions. 

Food products become unsafe for consumption when bacterial contamination occurs. Bacterial species such as Staphylococcus, Campylobacter, Clostridium, ListeriaE.coli., and Salmonella cause the majority of the infectious risk of foodborne illnesses around the world. Scientists have estimated that at least 39% of foodborne illnesses in the United States are caused by bacteria, whereas the rest are caused by any viral contamination and parasites. These bacteria can travel from one food to another because of their close relationship with the food, food handler, and food contact surfaces. As a food business owner, you can contribute to protecting public health and preventing food recalls by knowing what is the best way to avoid bacterial contamination.

Bacterial contamination can come from many different sources, but it can always be avoided by proper food safety practices. Food and bacteria will always come together and as food handlers, what you can only do is to control their presence and make their environment inhabitable to produce safe food. Protecting your consumers from foodborne illnesses is a top priority for any food business. 

We will give you a detailed overview of bacterial contamination and how to prevent its occurrence in this article.


bacterial contamination in food


What is bacterial contamination?

Bacterial contamination is a type of biological contamination in which bacteria is unintentionally introduced into a food material and causes it to spoil. The presence of bacteria can cause foodborne illnesses to consumers especially for risk groups like pregnant women, children, the elderly, and individuals with autoimmune disease. Biological contamination can be divided into two major classifications: food intoxication and food infection.


Food intoxication

Food intoxication is microbial contamination caused by bacteria that can multiply fast on food and produce bacterial toxins that cause the negative reaction of illnesses. It is the most commonly caused by Staphylococcus aureus, Clostridium perfringens, and Bacillus cereus. These bacteria are most associated with poultry meat products, low-acid canned foods, and foods rich in starch such as rice, respectively. Food intoxication causes symptoms that include upset stomach, nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea. 


Food infection

Contrary to food intoxication, food infection is caused by the bacteria themselves and does not produce toxins. These bacteria can cause foodborne illnesses once they greatly multiply on the food and are consumed by a customer. Bacteria that can cause food infection include Salmonella, Listeria, and Shigella.

The detection of bacteria and contamination in products can produce obvious changes in the food that they contaminate at a certain point. Contaminated food by kitchen germs can exhibit the following characteristics:

  • Unpleasant odor
  • Production of acid that causes the food to go sour
  • The food becomes soft or mushy
  • Visible bubbles
  • Curdling in beverages such as milk
  • Production of slime on the surface of the food 

Although, you have to keep in mind that not all spoiled foods will show obvious signs right away. To avoid and control bacterial contamination and observe for any signs. 


How quickly can bacterial contamination occur?

Depending on the surrounding environment, the contaminating bacteria, bacterial load, and the food material, bacterial contamination can occur to unsafe levels anywhere between 20 minutes to a day. Bacteria double in number in a very short time, commonly around 4 to 20 minutes. The initial bacterial load of food materials can dictate the rate of spoilage especially around the temperature danger zone which is 40°F–140°F or 4°C–60°C. 

Here are other related questions you might be interested in:


How long does it take for food to get contaminated?

Food can become contaminated once it comes in contact with previously contaminated food or any unsanitized food contact surfaces or if it stays in conditions that favor bacterial growth. Transmission of pathogens can occur upon contact or within 20 minutes, whereas spoilage can occur within the first 2 hours.


How fast can bacteria multiply in the right conditions?

Under the right conditions, bacteria can double in number every 10 to 20 minutes. Imagine this, if you had 2 cells of a bacterium, you will have 4 cells after two minutes and 16 cells after an hour. This is the reason why pathogens can easily cause spoilage in a short time.


What are bacterial contamination examples?

Some of the most common bacterial contaminations and outbreaks of infection are caused by the bacterial species Campylobacter, Staphylococcus, E.coli, Listeria, and Salmonella. The symptoms of foodborne illnesses caused by these microorganisms are almost the same with the most common symptoms being nausea, diarrhea, vomiting, and stomach cramps. The degree of symptoms experienced by customers depends on the contamination level of food.


avoid bacterial contamination by measuring food temperature


What is the best way to avoid bacterial contamination?

Hands down, the best way to avoid bacterial contamination is to always observe food safety practices as part of your food safety program. As we have mentioned, the presence of bacteria on food and the risk of bacterial contamination will always be present. Therefore, the best way to keep producing safe food and protecting your consumers' health is to prevent pathogenic bacteria from further multiplying to a point when it can cause severe effects.

Kitchen germs such as bacteria can come from a mobile sources such as food handlers, cooking utensils, equipment, food contact surfaces, and other food materials. A food handler can control the spread and growth of bacteria with very simple practices and an effective food safety program. Some of these food safety practices include the following:

  • Learn about the significance and principles of contamination. The first step in avoiding bacterial contamination and producing safe food is to know how it happens and have a better appreciation of its potential effects. Simple bacterial contamination can cause widespread outbreaks of infection and can even kill consumers. The most potent food poisoning that can cause a fatal outcome is known to be caused by Clostridium botulinum. It only takes 1 to 2 cases of foodborne illnesses caused by this bacteria to declare outbreaks of infection. 
  • Buy fresh raw materials. Most foodborne illness-causing bacteria are found in soil as it is a common source of microbial contamination. As such, raw food such as raw meat, root crops, and other agricultural products are most likely to have a high bacterial count. Choose a supplier that also applies strict food safety standards such as in terms of storage conditions, processing, and delivery to only produce safe food.
  • Storage condition for foods. Transmission of pathogens can occur at any point in the food supply chain. During storage, any food unit can get contaminated by improperly joining any cooked or ready-to-eat food and those that will require more extensive cooking on a single shelf. While it is true that cooking treatment will reduce bacterial contamination, if a food unit that will only be processed lightly gets contaminated, the contaminating bacteria will have more chances to survive. Similarly, ready-to-eat foods would only need reheating. Contamination after cooking can make further processing less effective. Storage conditions such as applying the wrong storage temperatures can encourage the unwanted growth of bacteria. Make sure that you store your foods in either a refrigerator unit or freezing conditions. Maintain a storage condition with consistently low temperature and prevent cold food from thawing which will encourage bacterial growth. 
  • Practice personal hygiene. The presence of bacteria can be minimized when the kitchen staff practices good personal hygiene options. Bacteria can come from dirty fingernails, soiled clothes, or untidy hair. Make sure to regularly instruct kitchen staff to observe and control proper personal hygiene options. This instruction includes reporting any potential sickness among the kitchen staff which can cause viral contamination or the spread of the virus among food workers.
  • Avoid environmental contamination. Within the kitchen, train kitchen staff to be aware of their surroundings to prevent transmission of harmful bacteria from cross contamination. Use separate utensils, cutting boards, and gloves to handle raw and cooked foods to avoid cross contamination. Regularly clean food contact surfaces with hot water or soapy water and a clean cloth. Observe proper handwashing before and after food service operations. Use soapy water to wash down any kitchen germs on your hands.
  • Follow proper waste management. Food wastes are a great culture medium for bacterial growth as well as attractants for pests. Their presence increases the risk of food poisoning. Pests can carry bacteria from wastes and then to food contact surfaces or foods and spread the contamination risk. They are also capable of bringing other pathogens such as a virus and spreading it within the service area. Make sure to regularly remove trash bins and food waste from the kitchen area.
  • Cook foods to the correct internal temperatures. One of the last lines of defense in terms of minimizing the presence of bacteria is properly cooking your food. Standard cooking temperatures established by food agencies such as the Food and Drug Administration in the United States are based on the most effective time and temperature combinations to inactivate kitchen germs. Despite this, a food handler must not be complacent that the foods will be processed and that the risk of food poisoning will be completely removed. Toxins produced by some bacteria cannot be removed by heating. However, if the bacterial count or contamination level is already too high, the cooking process may become ineffective.


FoodDocs food safety system-1


Similar to the principle of avoiding any gastrointestinal illness, prevention is always better than cure. Any foodborne illness caused by kitchen germs can be easily avoided with proper knowledge and strict food safety practices. As a food business owner, ensure that your food workers are well oriented when it comes to these practices.

Additionally, implement a food safety program, that efficiently and effectively monitors all food service operations. A monitoring system will help ensure that all conditions are met regarding food safety compliance. At FoodDocs, we have taken this step to another level. Now, you can get an intuitive digital Food Safety Management System with automatically generated monitoring logs. Learn more about it at the end of this reading.

Here are a few related questions you can use to further understand this section:


How can an operation prevent cross-contamination?

Properly training staff with the correct food safety processes and orienting them with the significance of food safety and contamination can ensure the prevention of cross contamination in a food business. When food employees understand what they are dealing with and what they are trying to prevent, they would have a better appreciation of the practices and apply them meticulously. 


How do you prevent food poisoning and reduce your risk of a serious health problem?

To prevent food poisoning, practice the basic food safety practices which include the following: 

  1. clean working area,
  2. store foods, equipment, and utensils properly,
  3. chill foods after cooking, 
  4. cook foods to the correct internal temperature.


How to minimize restaurant risks?

For customers, you can minimize restaurant risks by reviewing the establishment's reviews, checking for a food safety permit, and observing the establishment prior to dining.

For food business owners, the best way to minimize restaurant risks is to implement a comprehensive food safety management system.


keep food safe from bacteria by the correct storaging in the refrigerator


What factors affect bacterial contamination?

The rate at which kitchen germs grow and multiply is not the same all the time. It can vary depending on the conditions at the time of contamination. In knowing what is the best way to avoid bacterial contamination, these risk factors can play a great part. Some of the most prominent factors that affect the growth of bacteria include:

  • The acidity of the food. The acidity level of any food unit significantly affects the type of bacteria that can contaminate them and their rate of multiplication. Most bacteria cannot grow at pH level 4 and below. Products that have this level of acidity include fruit and fruit products, purees, and canned tomatoes and are rich in organic acids such as citric acid or vinegar which contains acetic acid. These foods are less likely to get bacterial contamination than low acid foods such as leafy greens, meat, beans, and herbs which can be considered as high-risk foods. High acid foods are more likely to be contaminated by molds and yeasts.
  • Moisture level. The basic rule is that bacteria grow faster with more moisture in foods. Dry food items such as dried fish, crackers, cereals, and powders are less likely to become spoiled by bacteria. As soon as they absorb moisture, the risk of food poisoning increases accordingly.
  • The temperature of food and surrounding. One of the most important factors in the growth of bacteria in the food and the surrounding temperature. The temperature danger zone is known as the most optimum range at which most bacterial pathogens grow rapidly. This danger zone is around 40°F to 140°F (4°C to 60°C). On the other hand, extreme temperatures are used to kill or stop the growth of bacteria. At very low temperatures, such as within the freezing range, bacterial growth is stopped or slowed down, whereas very high temperatures kill them.
  • Presence of oxygen. This factor applies most especially to canned foods and vacuum-packed food products. In these conditions, oxygen is removed from the food system. The majority of the pathogenic microorganisms cannot survive this condition and therefore makes canned foods very safe. Although, some bacteria that are known to cause outbreaks of infection can grow without oxygen such as the Clostridium botulinum. In such cases, different factors are adjusted to stop bacterial growth.
  • The initial microbial load of food. Since foods normally contain bacteria, the initial amount can greatly determine the rate of contamination and spoilage. This will depend on the origin of the raw material, quality, and the level of food safety practices used in its preparation.


The infectious risk of food poisoning and food recalls increases when multiple favorable conditions are present. As such, food safety practices must be designed based on the food service operations and food products in a food establishment. This is what our machine-learning system at FoodDocs prides itself in. You get an automatically generated digital FSMS tailored to your food business in mere minutes. 


Digital solution to monitoring bacterial contamination

Bacterial contamination is a problem that can be easily controlled within a food facility. Contamination by harmful bacteria is dependent on the level of food safety practices applied in a food establishment as well as the quality of products being used. In figuring out what is the best way to avoid bacterial contamination and the foodborne illnesses it can cause, you need to regularly monitor your food operations and closely manage them as a food business owner. What you need is an effective food safety management system. 

What if there is a way for you to remotely monitor your operations but still ensure that you are complying with very high standards of food safety laws and regulations? This is what our Food Safety Management System at FoodDocs is all about. Based on the information about your food business that you provide us, our software automatically creates a digital FSMS that fits your operations. All generated documents and operations will be designed to control bacterial contamination and other food safety hazards in your food establishment.

To get a better idea of what our food safety software offers, here are some benefits you will get once you join us at FoodDocs:

  • Digital monitoring forms. Once you sign up, our system automatically generates a digital FSMS with digital monitoring forms such as the following for you:
      • Water testing log. To help ensure that your water source is clean and free of bacterial contamination. Log laboratory test results in this form. 
      • Fridge temperature log. For maintaining the storage temperature of foods and immediate corrective actions in case of non-compliance.
      • Cooking temperature log. Log all internal temperature readings when cooking to ensure that all of the dishes you serve are free of bacteria contamination.
      • Cleaning checklist. Includes a list of essential tasks in ensuring the cleanliness of your facility.
      • Master sanitation schedule. A log that can help you track cleaning and sanitation activities to ensure that every task is done on time.

    These monitoring logs can help you prevent and control the multiplication of bacteria more efficiently. To help food handlers, each monitoring log is equipped with detailed instructions on how to perform and monitor the task more efficiently.


Cooking temperature log FoodDocs

FoodDocs cooking temperature log


  • Autofilled monitoring sheets. The digital monitoring forms you will get can be set to be automatically filled based on your previous data entries, you just have to confirm them. In this way, every food handler can focus on performing the tasks and will only need to verify if the logged information is correct.
  • Automatic notifications. Download our mobile application to get automatic notifications when critical limits are breached or when something is amiss with your operations. You can also use this feature to set deadlines and reminders for any certification and audit deadlines. 
  • Specific tasks for training. You can use our system to assign specific and well-defined tasks to every food handler. The tasks you will provide them with will automatically have the correct food safety standards based on laws. This saves you the time of orienting new employees for their daily tasks.
  • Real-time overview. Review your daily food safety operations using your real-time dashboard on our website. This feature gives you an updated progress report on the efficiency and effectiveness of your food safety operations. Identify which areas need more attention and focus your efforts on improving them.
  • Sustainable and accessible storage. Make your operations more sustainable by leaving behind paper-based monitoring forms. With this, you also get access to cloud storage where you can store all your information, forms, certificates, and other important documents without taking up any physical space at all. Store and organize all your information in a single location.

Did we mention that switching to our Food Safety Management System will only take 15 minutes? That's right! In just an average of 15 minutes, you can complete and comprehensive digital FSMS for your food business. 

Control the growth and spread of harmful bacteria and other food safety hazards in your food business with our digital food safety management system. Become an addition to our more than 10,000 satisfied customers and build a more efficient food business. Try our software free for 14-days and make all your food safe to eat.



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