Bacterial contamination is a situation which occurs when bacteria end up in a location where they are not supposed to be. It is often used to refer to contamination of food by bacteria which can cause disease, but can also occur in other settings. This situation is not desirable, because it can pose a health threat and cause other problems. As a result, steps are taken to avoid contamination in settings where it can become an issue.
In the case of food, bacterial contamination can happen at many steps along the supply chain from producer to dinner table. Bacteria can be present in the water and soil, and ride along with crops. They can also be transferred from people who handle the food, or introduced to food via dirty equipment, ranging from fouled packaging equipment to dirty pans in a restaurant. Contamination with bacteria at home often occurs as a result of leaving food out on the counter, not keeping food cold, or failing to wash hands before handling food. Once in the food, the bacteria can multiply, making the leap to a human host when someone consumes the food.
Bacterial contamination can also be a problem in medical clinics, operating rooms, and other health care settings. The bacteria can be transferred from patients or health care providers, and they may end up on surgical instruments, medical equipment, door knobs, and numerous other sites. In health care settings, this is an especially big issue because sick people are at risk of becoming more sick if they are exposed to harmful bacteria.
In scientific research, bacterial contamination of specimens can be an issue, as can contamination of specimens taken for analysis by a pathologist. The presence of unwanted bacteria can foul an experiment, throw off pathology results, or simply confuse a researcher. Bacteria spread readily through labs via a variety of surfaces, including equipment which is not properly sterilized, dirty hands, and through ventilation systems.
Prevention of bacterial contamination can be challenging. Keeping spaces clean and observing proper handling procedure is a big part of prevention. Simple steps like washing hands, dipping shoes in an antibacterial bath after exiting a patient's room, and wearing gloves to handle specimens can cut down a great deal on the risk of passing bacteria from one place to another. It is also important to conduct regular testing to check for bacterial contamination so that it can be identified before it makes someone sick or causes problems with an experiment or test.