Food safety

What is microbiological contamination of food & how to control microbial growth?

Perhaps the most widely noted type of hazard in the food industry is microbial contamination.

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Perhaps the most widely noted type of hazard in the food industry is microbial contamination.

  • Microbiological contamination of food refers to the unwanted presence of pathogenic microorganisms in food.
  • Microbial contaminants can cause negative effects on foods and consumers, such as spoilage and foodborne illness, respectively.
  • The microbial controls used may be physical, chemical, mechanical, or biological.


When people talk about food poisoning or foodborne illnesses, it is almost always caused by microorganisms. This type of contamination is significant, and there are several preventive controls designed specifically to control different microbial contaminations. As it can happen right under every food handler's nose, knowledge about the sources of contamination and mode of transmission is essential.

While physical and chemical contaminations also cause foodborne illnesses, biological contaminants, particularly microorganisms, are considered the biggest danger to food safety. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, at least 250 foodborne diseases are caused by microorganisms. Foodborne viruses and bacteria are accounted to cause the majority of the foodborne outbreaks. Although microbial contamination can cause significant damage, its control mainly lies in prevention.

Not familiar with what is a microbial contamination is or how to control it? Continue reading and be educated on the topic.


microbial contamination of food


What is microbial contamination?

Microbial contamination is best described as the presence of unwanted microorganisms collectively known as pathogens. This contamination can cause foodborne illness as the result of the biological process of the contaminant itself or its byproducts.

Major examples of microbial contamination include the presence of the following contaminants:

  • Bacteria
  • Virus
  • Parasites
  • Prions
  • Fungi (moulds and yeasts)

Microorganisms are present all around us, but they cannot be seen by the naked eye because of their minute size. This characteristic of harmful microorganisms makes them more dangerous and harder to control. Some of the most notable biological contamination is caused by harmful bacteria such as E. coli strains and Salmonella enterica. These contaminants cause severe diarrheal diseases in humans. 

Microbiological contamination can also bring significant changes in the characteristics of food. They can change the pH of the product from the organic acids they produce or compromise the food's structure. 

Different types of microbial contamination can cause different food-derived diseases and symptoms. The degree of food poisoning may also vary depending on the microbial load on the food products and the immune system of the affected customers.


How to avoid microbial contamination?

The best way to avoid microbial contamination is to practice proper food hygiene practices and to keep the working environment sanitized as intervention strategies. Foodborne pathogens can spread fast through dirty hands, utensils, equipment, and food.

Food handlers who do not practice proper handwashing can cross-contaminate different parts of the kitchen and spread microbial contamination. 

Here are specific operations that you could practice to avoid the risk of contamination:

  • Practice proper handwashing.
  • Wash hands only in appropriate areas.
  • Wear appropriate gear in food service.
  • Cook foods thoroughly to the recommended internal temperature.
  • Store foods at the correct keeping temperature. Keep foods away from the temperature danger zone.
  • Separate raw foods and ready-to-eat food products inside the refrigerator. Use a fridge organization chart to guide food handlers.
  • Use separate chopping boards and cooking utensils when preparing raw and ready-to-eat foods.
  • Do not let sick food employees work in the kitchen.
  • Ensure that all food contact surfaces are properly cleaned and sanitized.
  • Start using a food safety monitoring system like FoodDocs

The main key factor in avoiding foodborne pathogens is to keep a clean and sanitary environment when preparing your products. This includes strict food hygiene for food handlers and knowledge about which operations can promote the potential risk of contamination from pathogenic bacteria. 

Test your knowledge of food microbial contamination and control methods in our food safety quiz at FoodDocs.


microbial contamination of lemons


What is microbial control?

In the food industry, microbial control refers to the operations that identify and prevent foodborne pathogens' unwanted growth to unacceptable levels. These operations can be as simple as cleaning your facilities to more complicated operations such as changing the characteristics and environment of the food

Microbial control is an essential part of the food safety plan for food businesses. It consists of operations that identify potential pathogenic microorganisms and control measures. 

As foods are also the main source of nutrients for microorganisms, your products are likely to be contaminated and spoiled when no controls are applied. Microbial controls are commonly done through physical and chemical means such as controlling the temperature or adding substances such as acids to lower the pH of the product.

The appropriate control for microbial food safety hazards must depend on the identified and analyzed potential foodborne pathogens present in your food. As such, operations such as hazard analysis must be comprehensive enough to set up controls.


How to control microbial growth?

Microbiological growth in the food industry can be controlled by applying stringent sanitation and proper food processing. Microbial hazards are naturally present in foods, especially those grown in agricultural soil, such as fresh vegetables and fruits. They can be both beneficial and pathogenic. Either way, they need to be controlled to prevent any potential changes they may cause to your food products.

You can change the conditions or characteristics of your food to control microbial growth. The following factors significantly affect the microbiological quality of food items and their presence and rate of growth:

  • Temperature
  • Oxygen
  • Time
  • Acidity or pH level
  • Moisture

Control options for enteric pathogens may target these factors. The factor in changing and the degree of control may depend on the present pathogenic contamination. For example, some bacterial species in chicken are more resistant to heat and require a higher degree of cooking than those in pork.

In controlling these factors, consistent monitoring is also key. Every food business must have a comprehensive food safety plan composed of monitoring procedures and food safety forms. Fortunately, we offer a digital solution to help you improve efficiency in monitoring the control of microbial growth.

Our digital food safety management system can automatically generate digital monitoring forms for operations such as cooking, cleaning, and storage temperature to save your time and make controlling microbial growth easier. In addition, our solution is equipped with a smart notification system that reminds food handlers of food safety tasks. With a notification feature, your team would be sure that every task is done on time and efficiently.


FoodDocs food safety system-1


Microbial control methods in the food industry

The microbiological quality of foods is a major factor in food safety in the food industry. Critical control points are often established in a food safety plan to control the growth of bacterial pathogens. Monitoring procedures are used to determine if critical values are achieved or breached. Your critical control points can be automatically identified in our HACCP Plan module, and monitoring procedures can be set up in 15 minutes. Read more about the possibilities in the last section of this article.2

Control methods used in the food industry can be very simple or complicated depending on the complexity of the food processing. The main premise of some of these methods is to alter the conditions surrounding the microorganisms and make them unfavourable for survival. Control methods are used to inhibit, reduce, or kill foodborne pathogens in food.

Some operations included in a microbial control plan may include:

  • Sampling. Especially for receiving food shipments, the quality of food ingredients must always be evaluated. Microbiological techniques are used to verify any presented certificate of analysis by the supplier. Foods' microbiological quality may indicate their shelf-life and safety for consumption. As such, you must only receive and use food ingredients of good quality.2
  • Food processing (e.g., cooking, freezing, and addition of preservatives). For common food service businesses, food processing techniques such as baking, frying, and other thermal processes are key operations to control microbial growth. Foods are assigned the recommended internal cooking temperature commonly based on the minimum temperature needed to kill a particular pathogen.

There are other more complicated food processing techniques used to control microbial contamination in foods. These techniques include dehydration, high-pressure processing, radiation, and filtration. These control methods are more applicable in large-scale food production companies.

  • Proper food storage. In addition to processing, control of storage conditions is also important when it comes to preventing the growth of pathogenic microorganisms. High-risk foods or time/temperature control for safety food (TCS) category include food products that are very prone to spoilage when not properly stored. These products require strict temperature control and monitoring.

The premise of proper food storage is proper temperature control. Foods must not stay too long in the temperature danger zone, which is 40°F to 140°F (5°C to 60°C). Both pathogenic and beneficial microorganisms can grow optimally and spoil food fast at this temperature range. As such, proper monitoring is key to maintaining a proper temperature. 

  • Cleaning and sanitation of food contact surfaces. Microbial contaminants are always present in unsanitary conditions. In addition, food contamination is more likely to spread through cross - contamination when cleaning and sanitation controls are not applied. Even cooked foods placed on dirty plates or unclean contact surfaces can become contaminated.

Food handlers must effectively perform proper cleaning and sanitation to ensure the chance of survival of pathogens is low. In addition to foodborne pathogens, other types of food contamination are more likely to occur in unsanitary conditions. 

  • Food safety training of employees. The first key to effective control methods is knowledge of the significance of enteric bacteria and other foodborne pathogens. Food handlers are a common source of pathogens and other microbial contamination in the kitchen. Human pathogens such as Staphylococcus aureus, which live on the skin of food handlers, can be transmitted to foods.

With adequate food safety training, employees will have a fundamental knowledge of which conditions favour microbial growth and those that inhibit contamination from foodborne pathogens.

To achieve consistency in these control methods, your food business must have a strong food safety plan – you can use our digital food safety management system to achieve the highest level of food safety. The digital monitoring forms we automatically generate for you feature detailed instructions on performing and monitoring tasks appropriately. With this feature, you can ensure that microbial control measures are consistently followed, and your products will always have good microbiological quality. Creating microbial quality control in a food business entails establishing a comprehensive food safety plan.


microbial control method


When are microbial control methods used?

In the food industry, microbial control methods are used when there is a known and analyzed biological food safety threat. After identifying the potential microbial contaminants, appropriate controls are established.

The microbial controls used will vary depending on the nature of the potential contamination. Approaches can be any of the following categories:

  • Physical. This includes operations involving heat, such as cooking, drying, steaming, boiling, and other methods. These operations are often used on food ingredients or food-related items.
  • Chemical. Involves the use of chemical solutions such as cleaning and sanitizing agents. Such controls are used on food contact surfaces, utensils, and kitchen tools.
  • Mechanical. This type of microbial control is used for products such as beverages and products that can be cleaned. Liquid products can be passed through a filter that has very small pores and can remove microbial cells. Mechanical control methods also include peeling fruits or washing vegetables before using.
  • Biological. This type of control is not normally used in the food industry setup. Biological microbial controls use other living organisms to control the growth of organisms. The closest example is when you ferment cheese by infusing microbial cultures into milk to inhibit other microorganisms and form characteristic changes in the food.

Microbial control methods are often preventive measures to ensure that the food you serve to consumers is safe and protects public health. Failure to apply particular microbial controls during food production can increase the persistence of pathogens and allow them to survive as food contamination and spoil the food items. Such cases lead to numerous food recalls and foodborne illnesses, including viral and bacterial diseases, worldwide. 


How can FoodDocs help you avoid microbial contamination?

Microbial controls require a consistent application to become effective. Everything starts with a great HACCP Plan and with the rightly identified critical control points. The food safety plan of food businesses must include comprehensive monitoring forms, and teams must be well-equipped with food safety knowledge.

Microbiological contamination of food is a very common type of contamination as it can quickly occur at any given time and place. Despite this, its control is fairly simple. We offer a digital solution for you that can help ensure that all microbial control-related operations are correctly performed and are always on time.

Our system can automatically generate monitoring forms using artificial intelligence. These forms are based on the nature of your operations and can be further customized to fit your food business. In addition, they are equipped with detailed instructions to help food handlers execute the tasks every time.

Here are some areas and benefits where our digital solution can help you:

  • Creating an effective HACCP Plan in an hour. At FoodDocs, we offer a digital solution that can automatically generate a customizable HACCP Plan template. This template has all of the most essential areas of a HACCP plan, including the following:
    • Hazard analysis
    • Critical control point
    • Critical limits
    • Monitoring procedures
    • Corrective actions
    • Verification procedures
    • Record-keeping and documentation

You can further customize this food safety plan to fit your operations. In an average of 1 hour, you can get a comprehensive plan which is 500x faster than the manual process. 

  • Receiving. Receiving and screening food shipments is your first line of defence against microbial contamination. Your team needs to ensure that the raw materials you use are of good quality to lessen the risk of microbiological contamination in food. To help you ensure the microbial quality of the ingredients you use in your operations, you should use our Receiving Temperature Log. This monitoring log can help you check the important factors for food shipment such as the temperature of the delivery truck and the quality of the delivered food.




  • Cooking. As one of the food industry's most essential and widely used microbial control methods, cooking must be performed accurately. This means ensuring that the recommended internal temperature for each cooked food is accurately achieved every time. Our digital solution offers an automatically generated Cooking Temperature Log for keeping records of this process.

Cooking temperature log FoodDocs



  • Storage. Microbial contamination can also occur during food storage, especially inside a closed condition such as in a fridge or freezer. Foods must be arranged appropriately to avoid the risk of cross - contamination. In addition, controlled temperature storage must be consistently monitored to ensure that the potential growth of microorganisms is controlled with low temperatures. You can use our Fridge and Freezer Temperature Log for this operation.



  • Cooling. Another point where microbial contamination can occur is during cooling. Persistent pathogens that may have survived the cooking process can cause problems during cooling. At this stage, the enteric pathogen can recover and multiply. Such is the reason for using the 2-step cooling process. To help food handlers record and ensure that the process is properly executed, use our Cooling Temperature Log.
  • Sanitation. In addition to monitoring forms, our digital solution can generate other important food safety documents, such as our Master Sanitation Checklist. Food handlers can use this document to ensure that all cleaning and sanitizing tasks are done and that all areas of your food establishment are free of pathogens. 



Our objective is to help food businesses ensure food safety compliance in the most efficient way possible. In addition to digital monitoring forms, our digital Food Safety Management System also features the following:

  • A smart notification system sends alerts to food handlers whenever a task needs to be done. This feature can be coupled with our digital monitoring logs to help ensure that all food safety tasks are done on time.
  • Real-time dashboard to help food safety managers save time in supervising food safety tasks. This feature can help you save 20% of your time by remotely managing your operations. It can give you an overview of your tasks, and you can easily identify areas that need improvement.
  • Cloud storage where you can keep and organize all digital food safety documents securely. 

You can set up all of these features from FoodDocs in just 15 minutes. The process only requires you to answer a few basic questions describing your business operations to us. Using artificial intelligence and a machine learning program, our system will automatically generate digital monitoring forms for you.

You can further customize these forms to fit your unique activities. In addition, we feature a prefilling solution for our monitoring logs to help your employees save time and maintain accurate readings. Our digital FSMS was built to make compliance with food safety regulations more effortless and consistent, it covers your needs to ensure microbial control.

Do you want to test these solutions firsthand now? Use our 14-day free trial and discover how easily food safety compliance may be ensured.




Frequently Asked Questions

Need more information about this topic? Here are a few frequently asked questions about microbial contamination definition in the food industry.

Which of the following is an example of microbial control?2

 All operations, including reheating foods before serving, sanitizing contact surfaces, and refrigerating meals for safekeeping, are examples of microbial control. These operations help reduce and control the growth of pathogenic bacteria that can potentially cause foodborne illness and other food safety issues.

How are microbiological contaminants best described?

Microbiological contaminants are best described as unwanted microorganisms on food that can cause microbial spoilage and health risks such as foodborne illness. This type of contaminants may come from a wide range of sources, including an unsanitary environment, contaminated water, the food itself, food handlers, and other types of contamination such as physical contamination (e.g., pests and physical debris. 

How the destruction of all microorganisms and their endospores is referred to as?

The microbial control that destroys both microorganisms and their endospores are called sterilization. This process uses very high temperatures for a significant amount of time. Although this procedure may be too extreme for processing foods, it can be used to sterilize equipment with high microbial quality standards.

What is the easiest microbial form to kill or inhibit?

The easiest form of microorganisms to inhibit is their vegetative form. This form refers to the state of bacterial species and fungi capable of reproducing and forming viable counts in microbial tests. 



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