Food may be accidentally or deliberately contaminated by microbiological, chemical or physical hazards. In contrast to microbiologically caused foodborne illness, the link between exposure and effect of chemical hazards in foods is usually complicated by cumulative low doses and the delay between exposure and the onset of symptoms. Chemical hazards include environmental contaminants, food ingredients (such as iodine), heavy metals, mycotoxins, natural toxins, improper storage, processing contaminants, and veterinary medicines. Incidents have occurred because of poor harvesting or storage of grain, use of banned veterinary products, industrial discharges, human error and deliberate adulteration and fraud.[1]

Definition of an incident

An "incident" of chemical food contamination may be defined as an episodic occurrence of adverse health effects in humans (or animals that might be consumed by humans) following high exposure to particular chemicals, or instances where episodically high concentrations of chemical hazards were detected in the food chain and traced back to a particular event.[1]

Socio-economic impacts

Information on the impacts of these incidents is fragmentary and unsystematic, ranging from thousands of dollars to meet the cost of monitoring analysis, to many millions of dollars due to court prosecutions, bankruptcy, product disposal, compensation for revenue loss, damage to brand or reputation, or loss of life.[1]

List of notable incidents

Ancient times

Middle Ages

19th century

1900 to 1949

1950 to 2000

2001 to 2010

2011 to present


In 2013, Professor Chris Elliott, Professor of Food Safety and Director of the Institute for Global Food Security at Queen's University Belfast, was asked by the UK's Secretaries of State for Defra and Health to undertake a review of the weaknesses within UK food supply networks and to suggest measures which might be taken to address these issues. After an interim report was published in December 2013, his final report was published in July 2014, recommending that the UK adopt a National Food Crime Prevention Framework.

His 8 recommendations, or "eight pillars of food integrity", provided for:

  1. maintaining customer confidence in food as a chief priority
  2. a "zero tolerance" approach to food fraud or food crime
  3. a focus on intelligence gathering
  4. the role of laboratory services
  5. the value of audit and assurance regimes
  6. targeted government support for the integrity and assurance of food supply networks
  7. leadership, and
  8. crisis management in response to any serious food safety or food crime incident.[111]

See also


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