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What is the difference between cross-contamination and cross-contact? Aren't they the same?



No, they are not the same.  Cross-contact is a newer term that most people are not familiar with.  In the context of food allergy cases, most people think of cross-contamination, which is the incorrect term.


Cross-contamination results in the transfer of foodborne illnesses which are caused by disease-causing microbes or pathogens that contaminate foods.  It can happen in the field, processing plant or in the kitchen when bacteria or pathogens from one food product transfer to another food product.  For example, cantaloupes from the field have listeria on them.  The cantaloupes are put in a basket with other melons.  Now the melons are contaminated with listeria.

Another example of cross-contamination is the following: a chef uses a knife to cut the cantaloupe with listeria on it.  The same knife is used to cut bananas which are now contaminated with listeria.  If a customer ingests the banana, he will most likely have a foodborne illness caused by listeria.  He can develop a fever, muscle aches, diarrhea or other gastrointestinal problems.

When foods are contaminated with bacteria, sometimes the problem may be resolved by heating the food to a certain temperature which kills the bacteria.


Cross-contact results when a food product comes in contact with a food allergen, such as peanuts, wheat, dairy, etc. For example, a knife used to make a peanut butter sandwich is later used to cut up strawberries.  The strawberries now contain traces of peanut butter. Cross-contamination can also occur during the cooking process, i.e., a pot that contains peanut oil is not cleaned properly before another dish is made.  The second dish now contains traces of peanut.  Many people think that such situations are cross-contamination.  However, it is actually cross-contact in the context of food allergy cases.

Unlike cross-contamination, food allergens cannot be “burned” off like some bacteria.  Once the food allergen comes in contact with another type of food, the allergen remains on the food.

Legal Rights After Accidental Exposure To A Food Allergen Due To Cross-Contact

If consumers with food allergies are exposed to food allergens that are not supposed to be in foods, they may suffer serious allergic reactions or life-threatening reactions such as anaphylaxis.  In such situations, consumers have legal rights.  If you want to know what your legal rights are, call our PA and NJ food allergy lawyer, Daniel J. O’Brien at 877.944.8396 to schedule a FREE consultation.

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