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Common food safety terms

Contaminant
a thing that shouldn't be present in food and can make the food unsafe to eat. Examples are harmful chemicals, physical objects (e.g. glass, metal fragments) and microorganisms (germs).
Cross contamination
when harmful microorganisms or chemicals spread to food from other food, surfaces, hands or equipment. For example, if a cutting board used with raw chicken is then used with salad vegetables, microorganisms in the chicken juice on the board will spread to the salad.
Environmental sample
a small amount of soil, water, food or other material taken (e.g. from a restaurant, factory or farm) to test in a lab to see if it contains harmful microorganisms.
Epidemiological ('epi') investigation
when health experts and scientists look into what is making groups of people sick. It usually involves talking with sick people and taking lab samples (to look at their blood and/or faeces) to work out whether the illness was caused by a particular microorganism.
Faecal–oral route
a common way that foodborne illness can be spread, it's when very small amounts of faeces (poo) from people or animals are somehow transferred to people's mouths, often by people's dirty hands. This can happen if people do not wash their hands properly after going to the toilet, changing nappies, or touching animals, dirty eggs, soil or manure. If someone preparing food has dirty hands, the food they touch can get microorganisms on it and these microorganisms can then be swallowed by the person who eats that food.
Foodborne illness, sometimes called 'food poisoning'
when people get sick from eating food that has microorganisms or other harmful substances in it. A common foodborne illness is gastroenteritis ('gastro'), although this does not always come from food.
Food history
what a person has eaten over a period of time. When there is an outbreak of foodborne illness, the sick people as well as people who are not ill are asked what they ate and when, so investigators can find out if people got sick from eating a particular food. If it turns out a food product caused the illness, that product is recalled as quickly as possible to remove it from the food supply.
Food recall
the removal of an unsafe food product from the food supply (including shops, wholesalers, etc.).
Microorganisms or microbes
very small organisms you need a microscope to see, including bacteria (examples are Salmonella and Campylobacter), viruses (examples are norovirus and Hepatitis A virus) or parasites (examples are giardia and tapeworms). The words 'germ' or 'pathogen' are often used for a microorganism that can make people sick.
Microbial contamination (of food)
when the food contains microorganisms, or to put it another way, germs have contaminated the food.
Pathogen
a microorganism that can cause disease.
Serovar or serotype
a specific type of microorganism within a larger family of related ones. Different types can be identified by various lab tests. For example, within the group of Salmonella bacteria there are thousands of different serotypes. If a group of sick people all have the same serotype of microorganism, it is likely they have become sick from the same thing (e.g. a particular food served at the same restaurant or from the same farm). Knowing this information helps in finding what caused the outbreak in the first place.
Source of contamination
where a harmful substance or microorganism has come from. For example, raw eggs from a particular farm could be a source of Salmonella contamination in a salad dressing made by a restaurant.
Toxin
a poison made by a living thing (plant, animal or microorganism).
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