Food contamination: Emerging trends, challenges, and solutions

Food Safety Magnified2

Food contamination remains a leading cause of preventable illness globally, with 600 million cases of foodborne illness reported every year. The effects can be devastating. Having plentiful, high-quality food is something many of us take for granted. However, securing safe, nutritious food for the world’s growing population is an ongoing challenge.

The future of food safety around the world

Food contamination is not only a problem in developing countries. In the US, for example, food poisoning affects 48 million people every year, leading to 128,000 hospitalizations and 3,000 deaths. Globally, around 420,000 people die from food-borne pathogens such as salmonella and E. coli. Children under five years old account for 40% of these deaths.

These alarming statistics highlight how important it is to ensure safe, high-quality, affordable food for everyone. Food contamination is preventable, and technological advancements offer great opportunities to improve safety and sustainability in the food processing industry.

This article outlines the emerging trends, challenges, and solutions to help food producers prepare for a safer, more sustainable future.

Food safety is all of our responsibility. The risks to consumers, brand and profit margins make contamination of food a serious issue.

Sustainability and food safety go hand-in-hand

Forward-thinking food producers should consider food safety in light of four emerging global trends.

1. Rising meat consumption

The global population is expected to grow to almost 10 billion people by 2050, and economic growth will lead to proportionally greater consumption of meat. As demand for animal protein increases, so will the need to implement food safety practices.

2. Sustainability

Increasing demand for meat will place further pressure on agricultural and ecological systems. To keep up with demand and reduce strain on the environment, the processing industry must dramatically reduce food waste. Food safety and sustainability are inextricably linked.

3. Increasingly complex food supply chain

As the population grows and globalization accelerates, the food supply chain will continue to grow in scale and complexity. Robust traceability systems will be essential to navigate this development.

4. COVID-19 and increased concerns over food safety

Consumers now consider good hygiene and safety compliance to be the most important factors when shopping, significantly increasing in importance since prior to the pandemic. Strict food safety measures and labeling are necessary to reassure shoppers that food products are safe.

Together, these trends show that food safety and sustainability are inseparable and will become more and more critical with every passing year.

Marel employee collaboration

Preventing contamination

Food contaminants can be biological, physical, or chemical, and exist at every point in the supply chain.

Cross-contamination occurs in three main ways: from food to food, from people to food, and from equipment to food. This section explores these challenges and highlights some potential solutions.

Food hygiene

In food processing, incorrect storage and improper preparation (or cooking, for convenience food) are the most common hygiene risks. Once food is contaminated, contact with other food can lead to cross-contamination. This is especially concerning in the case of biological pathogens such as salmonella, listeria, campylobacter, and E. coli, which can spread and multiply by millions in just a few hours.

Measures to prevent food-to-food contamination include:

  • Purchasing raw materials from reputable suppliers
  • Monitoring processes closely with real-time data insights
  • Using inventory software to streamline storage and logistics of products with limited shelf-life
Staff hygiene

Food workers must pay close attention to personal hygiene and follow all preparation, cooking, and storage procedures carefully. Education and training can help minimize cross-contamination risks while reducing the contact time between people and food to avoid physical contamination.

Measures to prevent person-to-food contamination include:

  • Increasing automation to reduce human contact with food
  • Using software that provides operator guidance, leaving less room for human error
  • Promoting regular and thorough hand-washing
  • Ensuring that staff personal protective equipment (PPE) such as aprons, gloves, head coverings, and masks are high quality and in good condition
Equipment hygiene

Unhygienic equipment creates a range of food safety risks, including physical contamination from dirty or damaged parts, biological contamination due to ineffective cleaning, and chemical contamination from cleaning product residue.

Measures to prevent equipment-to-food contamination include:


Food producers must be able to track and trace food products and ingredients through every stage of the supply chain. Time is also key. The faster a food producer can trace an issue, the faster they can fix it, avoiding consumer harm and minimizing the cost of food recalls.

Measures to ensure traceability include:

Marel's innovate food inspection equipment helps food processors to overcome contamination challenges

Innovation in practice

How Marel supports high quality, safe and affordable food production

By investing heavily in research and development, Marel works to create groundbreaking solutions that support food safety in a sustainable manner.

Hygienic, sustainable solutions

At our innovation center in Boxmeer in the Netherlands, we conduct microbiological research as part of our mission to reduce biological contamination in primary and secondary processes. By designing innovative, easy-to-clean solutions, our engineers seek not only to reduce food contamination and waste, but also to minimize the labor, water, and energy needed for operation and cleaning. Sustainability wins on every front.

Advanced X-ray technology

We set the industry standard in the detection of hard food contaminants such as bone and metal. Our SensorX inspection systems for poultry, meat and fish use X-ray technology to automatically detect and reject bone fragments and other hard materials while also maximizing yield to reduce waste and increase profits.

Traceability software

Innova Traceability software provides a complete overview of food’s journey from source to shelf. Having a reliable traceability system helps to greatly reduce food contamination risks, protect brand reputation, ensure compliance with regulations, and manage inventory effectively.

There is still room for improvement

Although there are considerable challenges to overcome, technological advances in equipment and software mean that food processors are better equipped than ever to face these emerging trends.

With our eyes firmly on the future, Marel is committed to helping food processing companies produce food more safely than ever. Preventing food contamination is essential to feed a growing population safely and sustainably. Contact a Marel specialist in your region for tailored advice on making your processing more productive, profitable, sustainable and safe.

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