Chemical contamination

What are the main types and sources of chemical contamination?

Agricultural chemicals

Agricultural chemicals such as insecticides and herbicides can find their way into the food chain and end up in meat products.  The Commonwealth government has a chemical residue testing program running in the industry to detect farms and animals affected by these chemicals.

Veterinary chemicals

These include drenches, dips, hormonal growth promotants and animal antibiotics. Veterinary chemicals can contaminate the meat if the slaughter occurs too soon after the chemicals were used on the animal. There is a testing and educational program to try and eliminate this problem.

Cleaning chemicals

Detergents and sanitisers are used to clean meat plants after each day’s operation. Only chemicals with documentation from the manufacturer stating that they are suitable for the food industry can be used in and around meatworks. If these chemicals are not used properly, they can leave residues on surfaces which will contaminate the meat. All companies have very strict procedures for using and storing chemicals.


Oils and grease can contaminate carcases leaving black or brown smears on the meat. This has to be trimmed off. Faulty or poorly maintained machinery will drip grease and oil onto the product.

Why is chemical contamination a problem?

If meat is contaminated by chemicals it might make people sick either in the short term or in the long term.  Consumers want to eat foods that are wholesome and free of dangerous chemicals. For this reason the Australian government and governments overseas regularly check meat products. It is important for the meat industry to always supply meat free of chemical residues. Scares about chemical residues have affected Australian meat exports in the past and the meat industry is doing a great deal to make sure this does not happen again.