Cross Contamination: Types, Side Effects, and Prevention

Healthcare | 10/5/2024

A gloved hand holding up a piece of plastic with microbial life on it


Though there are many ways that bacteria can spread throughout premises, most occur without direct human contact. For example, bacteria naturally exist in the air, and can also be found on various surfaces, on people, and on hands. However, cross-contamination is the direct or indirect transmission of these harmful microorganisms from one surface, object, or person to another. This can include doorknobs, handrails, utensils, chopping boards, food contact surfaces, and, occasionally, the food itself. Because of this broad range of sources, cross-contamination is one of the most preventable forms of contamination in all settings, whether in businesses or homes.

The following blog will explore the true definition of cross-contamination, its side effects, its potential to cause health issues, and how Rubbermaid Commercial Products can help manage and prevent it across various environments.


What Is Cross-Contamination? 

As the name states, cross-contamination is the contamination of surfaces, objects, people, food, or just about anything due to their paths crossing. The term is most commonly used in food preparation, especially when high-risk foods such as raw fish or meat products are involved. For example, if the bacteria of raw chicken, which is harmful to humans, come into contact with cooked food, it can cause significant foodborne illness.

However, cross-contamination is not limited to food production. It is present in all settings, including healthcare environments. For instance, a healthcare worker could touch sterile surgical instruments without washing their hands after handling contaminated medical waste.

As noted in the example, cross-contamination always involves a force, such as a food handler or healthcare worker moving items from one place to another.


Common Sources Of Cross-Contamination

1. The Hands 

As the hands are the most used part of the body in all jobs, it’s no surprise that they are the leading cause of cross-contamination. It is important to note that some instances of cross-contamination are accidental. However, the most prevalent ways that bacteria spread within a business is due to staff either not washing their hands or not washing their hands effectively. It’s essential that staff are not only made aware of the best handwashing practices, but that they are constantly retrained on how to do so. From infection control in childcare to infection control in hospital food service, this can significantly reduce the bacteria that spreads in a business and can promote a safer environment. 

Handwashing alone is not enough to completely prevent cross-contamination in businesses. These facilities must have the appropriate hand soap and hand soap dispensers to guarantee that bacteria is removed from the skin effectively. Where handwashing may be limited due to the sink locations in a business, touch-free hand sanitisers can provide quick bacteria-eradicating solutions for staff. 

Touch-free hand dispenser

Maintaining hand hygiene is particularly important in healthcare settings due to the risk of patient-to-patient cross-contamination. Ensuring that healthcare workers adhere to strict handwashing protocols is crucial for effective disease control and preventing the spread of biological contamination. 

This involves regular training on hand hygiene practices tailored to tackle different types of contaminants, including harmful microorganisms and allergens. In many cases, healthcare facilities implement comprehensive monitoring systems to ensure compliance and effectiveness of these practices, which reduces the potential for cross-contamination and safeguards patient health.


A person washing their hands in the sink with soapy water


2. Surfaces 

Microfibre cloth range

Surfaces that remain unclean and unsanitised for periods of time can begin to harbour harmful bacteria. This is especially true if these surfaces come into contact with several external sources, such as people’s hands and food. Surfaces are also not limited to benches and tabletops. Countertops, cutting boards, utensils, and even handles on equipment, can be considered a surface. So, businesses mustn’t be just training their staff to clean tables. They need to consider the entire ecosystem of their premises. More than this, it’s essential that the right cleaning and sanitisation tools are used. 

Staff should employ the HYGEN Microfibre cloth range, which is specialised in trapping pathogens and preventing bacteria from re-spreading immediately after cleaning. Though they can sanitise effectively without the use of chemicals, businesses should consider the surface they are working on and determine if a cleaning chemical can promise a higher level of cleanliness.


3. People 

All businesses, in some form or another, will have people. This may include their staff for office jobs or customers for service or product-based businesses. People can become a source of cross-contamination when sick, have open wounds or have come into contact with bacteria. Cross-contamination from person to person can be prevented through the right cleaning supplies and practices.

This is because cross-contamination acts like a cycle. If a surface contains harmful bacteria and a person comes into contact with it, they are now infected. So, from office cleaning supplies to restaurant cleaning supplies, having the right tools in place can keep premises free from bacteria and, 

inversely, can stop people from passing infection on to one another. Using hot soapy water for regular cleaning can be particularly effective in removing bacteria from various surfaces.

While sick days slow production, it is also critical that business owners take the responsibility of sending sick staff home to prevent the spread of bacteria. Social distancing is also encouraged during cold and flu season. 

In healthcare settings, using personal protective equipment (PPE) such as gloves, gowns, masks, and eye protection is crucial to preventing the transfer of infectious agents. PPE helps block the spread of harmful bacteria and viruses during patient interactions and when handling contaminated materials, ensuring both patient and worker safety.


A group of hotel workers in their uniform


4. Food

As mentioned above, food can be one of the most common sources of cross-contamination. Food such as meat, poultry, seafood, and some fresh produce contain harmful bacteria. These are considered high-risk and must only be handled by those with the right certifications and training.

Regardless of whether staff are working in a restaurant, bar, hospital kitchen, or another commercial kitchen, they should also take the time to dispose of scraps appropriately and in the correct waste bins. They should also ensure that food is placed in the correct storage containers as soon as it is out of use. These actions will reduce the chances that food begins piling up in a kitchen, which increases the risk of cross-contamination. 

Cooking and food processing procedures must also follow strict food safety protocols, including maintaining proper temperature control to prevent food poisoning. Temperature control is critical to ensure that contaminated food does not become a breeding ground for bacteria.

Additionally, food safety measures should address concerns related to food allergies and gluten exposure. This includes separate handling and storage procedures for gluten-containing foods and allergens to avoid cross-contact. Raw food, especially raw meat and seafood, should be handled and stored separately from cooked food and fresh produce to minimise the risk of biological contamination.


Chefs chopping raw meat on a chopping board


Rubbermaid Commercial Products Is Here To Help 

At Rubbermaid Commercial Products, we offer a wide range of products to help businesses prevent cross-contamination, including washroom products, food storage containers, and cleaning tools. Contact us today to learn more about how we can help you keep your facility clean and safe.