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Cross-Contact vs. Cross-Contamination: What’s The Difference?

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What Is Cross-Contact?

Cross-contact happens when a food allergen comes into contact with another food, object, or surface that does not purposefully contain the allergen. Due to this, foods and surfaces then may contain trace amounts of the allergen, which are undetectable minuscule amounts. It’s essential to understand how serious cross-contact can be. For some food-allergic people, cross-contact with their allergen can cause the same anaphylaxis immune response in their body as ingesting the life-threatening food allergen.

Based on my research, the term “cross-contact” is fairly new. Meaning, within the last decade it has become the most common term used when food allergen contamination occurs. Some people may call this transfer of allergenic particles “cross-contamination” instead of “cross-contact” because both terms seem interchangeable. However, technically speaking, they aren’t. 

What Is Cross-Contamination?

Cross-contamination is the transfer of bacteria and viruses from different objects, causing contamination and potential illness. 

This FARE article explains cross-contamination in a food setting, “Cross-contamination is a common factor in the cause of foodborne illness. Microorganisms such as bacteria and viruses from different sources can contaminate foods during preparation and storage. Proper cooking of the contaminated food in most cases will reduce or eliminate the chances of a foodborne illness.”

What’s The Difference Between Cross-Contact & Cross-Contamination?

The key to remember is that cross-contact causes contamination of surfaces by allergens, and cross-contamination is a term specifically used for bacterial and viral contamination. Regardless of the terms being used, I think we all get the point if we’re talking about a food allergy, it’s safe to assume the surface has been contaminated with an allergen. To be completely transparent, you may catch me accidentally using the two interchangeably by accident, like many do, and that’s just because it’s confusing! 

Read my article defining cross-contact and explaining cross-contact examples here. 

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