Top Five Food Contaminants

The FDA estimates approximately 48 million cases of foodborne illnesses every year. That’s one in six Americans! If you keep up with food recalls, you’ve probably heard the names of these five most common food contaminants.

Escherichia coli (E. coli)

  1. coli bacterium is usually harmless; however, some strains can cause anemia, kidney failure, diarrhea or urinary tract infections. When E. coli is found in food, it’s usually because meat is not cooked properly or because of infection in raw milk or vegetables. It is usually tested in food and water and can be prevented by using food thermometers and proper food preparation.


Norovirus is very contagious, can infect anyone, and is spread through contaminated water or surfaces. It’s most commonly spread in closed spaces such as daycares, nursing homes, and schools. However, it can be found in food such as oysters, fruits, and vegetables. Fun fact: The Baylor College of Medicine in Texas recently developed a way to grow human norovirus in cells! This helps researchers learn more about the virus and how to prevent and treat it. Read more about their discovery here.


Most commonly found in contaminated chicken including organic and free-range products. According to the CDC, many people are affected by campylobacter but it goes unreported or undiagnosed. Typical symptoms usually occur two to five days after eating contaminated food. The best way to prevent campylobacter infections is to cook chicken thoroughly (a minimal internal temperature of 165 degrees Fahrenheit).

Salmonella Enteritidis (Salmonella)

Salmonella is usually found in eggs, poultry, meat, juice, raw fruits and vegetables, and is spread through food or water. You can also find salmonella on contaminated animals. Unfortunately, you cannot recognize it from the outside and you need to get testing if you suspect contamination. Children under the ages of five are the most vulnerable to salmonella, and it is more common during the summer months (i.e. June, July, and August).

Listeria monocytogenes (Listeria)

Bluebell, Sargento, Veggie Noodle Co. – you might have seen these brands making headlines recently for recalls due to a possible listeria contamination. This harmful bacterium can most likely be found in unpasteurized milk, ready-to-eat deli meats, and soft cheeses. Consumers who have eaten food contaminated with listeria can experience symptoms such as high fever, headache, stiffness, abdominal pain, and diarrhea.

Stay up to date on recalls, market withdrawals, and safety alerts with the FDA.

At Nova Biologicals, we test for various food contaminants including bacterial, viral, parasitic, yeast, mold, and microbial toxins. If you need food testing (or other regulatory biological testing), contact us at or give us a call at 1-800-282-5416.

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