Understanding Food Safety Hazards: Definition and Significance
The definition of food safety hazards is any external agents that are found in the food supply chains. These agents can cause loss of human life by contamination of the food materials.
The contamination by these hazards can occur at any step of the supply chain for the food. These include transportation, packaging, serving, harvesting, delivery, and even in food storage areas.
Major Types of Food Safety Hazards for Foodborne Illnesses
Several food safety hazards can provoke foodborne illnesses. But these have been categorized into 4 distinct categories. The 4 major food safety hazards are biological, chemical, physical and allergenic hazards.
The potential damage that the food hazards can cause can mildly or significantly affect the health of those who consume these. The level of contamination affects the level of the outbreak.
Also Read: Key Components of Food Safety Compliance
Chemical Food Hazards for Foodborne Illnesses
The hazards that fall under this category are the chemical substances that are manually added to the foods, or it is innate like the food. These can cause injury to humans or food-borne illnesses. An instance of naturally occurring harmful chemicals is the saponins from legumes.
These can become hazardous when the components are used in excess or without adequate labeling for consumers. Furthermore, there are chemicals such as fertilizers, machine oil, antibiotics, heavy metal compounds, and pesticide residues that are categorized as unintentional chemical hazards that may have effects on consumers when consumed.
Examples of Some of the Most Common Sources of Chemical Food Hazards
Examples of Some of the Most Common Sources of Chemical Food Hazards
These hazards may be naturally present in materials, unintentionally introduced in the foods, or added intentionally. Some instances of chemical food hazards also occur as an outcome of processing abuse during heating treatments. The food industry has mentioned below some of the common sources of chemical food hazards in the food business:
- Amendments in the Soil
When the raw material, such as fruits and vegetables, is in the growth stage, the quality of the soil and any amendments added to the soil can affect the final product. The plants could also absorb any unwanted chemicals from the soil they are growing in.
One common example is how green tea plants can absorb heavy metals from the soil, such as lead, around their growing areas. This also includes chemicals from herbicides, pesticides, and fertilizers that are applied during the growth period.
- The Heat Treatment
At times, the chemical food hazards can be a clear indication of an incorrect process being followed or skewed conditions from the original process. In the case of a chemical acrylamide, the food inspectors can reach the premise that food has been treated with excessive heat when they detect high levels of acrylamide in the food.
This chemical compound is formed as a result of high temperatures, which provides suitable conditions for the sugars and proteins in food to react with each other. Prolonged human exposure to this chemical is proven to increase the risk for various types of cancers in humans.
- Cleaning Agents
The addition of cleaning and sanitation solutions is considered an unintentional chemical food safety hazard. These solutions can work themselves into the food as a result of inadequate washing with water. Some sanitizing agents such as chlorine, even in small amounts, can be quite harmful and affect the quality of the food and its safety.
- Raw Materials for the Food
Some raw materials for the food, such as fish, can also contain harmful toxins. One case is that of the Fugu or pufferfish, which is a delicacy for Japanese restaurants. This fish has tetrodotoxin which is a potent neurotoxin.
It is a natural defense mechanism for the fish. Only specialized and a handful of chefs can follow the techniques that are required to remove the risks of chemical food hazards for the consumption of the public.
- Food Preservatives and Additives
Certain compounds such as sodium nitrate which is used to cure meat and the use of sodium sulfite as an antifungal agent also fall into the category of chemical food hazards. For some more vulnerable individuals, sodium nitrite can increase the risk of heart disease and sodium nitrate can cause allergic reactions.
These chemical compounds can also become highly dangerous if they are added in unregulated amounts which surpass the specified standards by the food regulators.
Biological Hazards of Foodborne Illnesses
The biological hazards of foodborne illnesses generally contain contaminants that are innate to the living organism, which include pathogens such as yeasts, fungi, bacteria, and parasites.
These hazards can be detrimental to public health, as these can cause foodborne illnesses that could range in levels from very high to very low. Perhaps the most common factor for outbreaks in the industry is biological hazards.
Examples of Some Of The Most Common Sources of Biological Hazards
Biological hazards are the most common form of hazards that breach food safety hazards. This is present in food production sites and food service areas. The presence is enhanced during the harvesting of raw materials, with the mentioned below being some of the most common sources of biological hazards.
In certain cases, water can become contaminated with hazards and especially when the source doesn’t have proper treatment and is unsecured. Water is known to be one of the best mediums for the transfer of widely known pathogens such as Escherichia coli, Hepatitis E, Norovirus, Campylobacter, and parasites.
This is because water is used in all of the operations in the food industry, and this can easily super spread these biological hazards. Therefore, water treatment is highly critical.
The Handling of Food by Humans
As the handlers of the food are humans most of the time, we humans also host several pathogens in our bodies. According to research, 25% of animals and humans have harmful bacteria such as Staphylococcus aureus on their skins.
This can cause Staphylococcal food poisoning, and it is reported to have had almost 100,000 serious cases in the USA. Additionally, the natural pathogens on the skin of humans carry biological food hazards around.
Raw Food Materials
All of the food materials innately consist of naturally occurring biological hazards. These foods are perhaps one of the best sources of these hazards. The raw materials include vegetables, fruits, and root crops.
These are more likely to harbor soil-borne pathogens and require proper treatment such as intensive washing before the use of these for further food processing.
The Materials Used for Food Packaging
The packaging of the food comes into direct contact with the food. The packaging must be sterilized to make sure the contact is not harmful, as the packaging can harbor the contaminants.
Materials such as cartons, cans, and plastics are not completely free from biological hazards. Bottles, for instance, must be completely dry to prevent moisture which can attract biological hazards.
Storage Areas of the Food
Be it the raw materials or the finished products, the storage area for the food can harbor several biological hazards, mostly those where there is minimal packaging. When the temperature control is inadequate, there is a lack of cleaning of the storage areas and poor maintenance practices, this can increase the biological hazards.
In the case of refrigerated storage, ready-to-eat foods, and the mixing of raw materials can increase food contamination. Small leftover pieces of food or trapped juices can also start gathering biological contaminants by providing ideal conditions.
Machinery, and Equipment Food Contact
If the food makes contact with the un-sanitized processing equipment, it is possible that the equipment harbors hazards that will cause the food to come in contact with contaminants and get spoiled.
Some hazards can also produce slime on the surfaces of the equipment which makes them resist regular cleaning procedures.
Certain pests such as lizards, birds, insects, and rodents can transfer the pathogenic organisms inside a restaurant in several methods.
Their droppings are small and actually, go away unnoticed most of the time. So they can easily get included in food and set a situation that we do not wish to comprehend.
Physical Hazards for Foodborne Illnesses
Physical hazards are defined as any extra material or foreign objects being included inside the food and contaminating it. These can result in acts of serious injury or serve as growth areas for dangerous pathogens.
These hazards can be prevented by making inspections and physical observations. For a large volume of productions, automatic detectors may be used.
Examples of some of the Most Common Sources of Physical Hazards
There are several sources of physical hazards inside the line of production. These can come from machines, pests, or the food handlers themselves. Their detection is crucial as these can attract the spread of other hazards. Some of the most common sources of physical hazards are:
The Production Utensils and other Equipment
As factory equipment is involved in the food production process, parts of plastic and chips of metal can easily get mixed into the food. This is quite common for old equipment. Physical hazards such as screws, nails, and broken glass can originate from machines in production or kitchen areas and get mixed with the food.
The pests also largely contribute to the physical hazards in the food business. The insects and pests can die and get mixed into the food and contaminate them completely. Rodents like rats can leave their hair everywhere and carry insects that cause diseases. Other pests such as birds also produce droppings that if come into contact with the foods, can contaminate them.
If a proper hygiene system is absent, the food handlers themselves can contribute to physical hazards. They must have protective uniforms such as caps, and hairnets that prevent strands of their hair from falling into the food being prepared. Furthermore, any pen caps and loose jewelry can cause physical hazards that can cause choking, etc.
Some natural hazards occur naturally from the raw materials that are being used themselves. Bones in the meat are an example of a very common contaminant alongside leaves and twigs on the fruits.
Additionally, some common commodities such as flour, salt, and sugar can be contaminated with hazards such as small rocks due to unclean supplier production areas. The detection of these hazards can prevent any injuries to consumers.
The allergens are also food safety hazards. These are caused by certain proteins that the immune system of an individual may mistake as foreign matter that can be deemed dangerous.
Examples: Some common food allergens are tree nuts, shellfish, eggs, milk, fish, wheat, peanuts, soybean, lupin, celery, sesame, sulfites and sulfur dioxide, mollusk, and mustard. This is why it is the responsibility of the food business to inform consumers of any potential risks in food products.
Importance of Food Safety Hazards for the Food Business
According to a study, every year, almost 600 million people become affected with foodborne illnesses because of contaminated foods. This roughly translates to almost 1 in 10 people in the whole world.
These foodborne illnesses reduce productivity in all communities as even the labor force is unable to perform their duties as per routine. So the first step to preventing the occurrence of foodborne illnesses will be to properly identify the food safety hazards.
Consumers mostly value the sense of safety that the food businesses provide them with. If the news links to your food and highlights any food safety issues, the business can end up losing the profit and the market quite significantly.
Food safety hazards also have internal advantages. When a food business can identify food safety hazards and then effectively communicate them with the employees, this creates a very productive environment for the flow.
This also allows the workforce to identify which practices are best suited to eliminate the specific food safety hazards. This also ensures that all the food safety laws are followed as well.
Digital Solutions to Enhance Food Safety Standards and Avoid Food Safety Hazards
For businesses, digital solutions can help maintain food safety standards. When businesses have proper identification, processing, monitoring, and analysis ensure that the food safety hazards can be controlled to a significant level.
As the food business is advancing and integrating newer technology every day, Folio3 has come up with digital food safety management systems for the food industry.
Our company makes use of artificial intelligence and machine learning algorithms that employ data science to make the management of everyday operations streamlined. The general solution provided by Folio3 includes the following:
- The system provides a smart system for notification that can help ensure that all of the identified hazards are addressed every day and everywhere.
- Checklists and digital forms for monitoring. These can be set up by the business automatically and filled likewise to save the time and resources of the employees.
- In addition to these monitoring forms, the software will also suggest critical safety evaluations and testing for the identification of food safety hazards in your working environment.
- The software solution will save resources and time by up to 20%. It can easily manage all of the food safety operations from a dashboard that is updated in real-time.
- The use of the software solution will also organize, store and allow immediate retrieval of the digital files from any location and any device as the solution makes use of cloud storage.
The software solution will be able to generate all of the required documents directly. All of the documents can be generated in a customizable way for different businesses to suit themselves.
Folio3’s food safety management solution will make sure that your company is compliant with the food safety protocols.
How can I prevent cross-contamination in my kitchen?
You can prevent cross-contamination in your kitchen by following the suggestions stated below:
- Use new/clean utensils to prepare and handle food every time.
- Make sure the raw and cooked food is kept separately.
- Ensure proper hygiene practices such as washing hands thoroughly.
- Store all products at the right temperatures.
- Label products with their due dates.
- Sanitize all surfaces of the kitchen.
- Ensure proper waste disposal.
- Utilize treated water to cook food.
- Adopt the usage of Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) such as gloves, goggles, and lab coats.
What are the symptoms of foodborne illnesses caused by biological hazards?
Some of the symptoms of foodborne illnesses include:
- Abdominal pain
How can food businesses ensure proper hygiene practices among employees?
Some of the most common practices followed by food businesses to ensure proper hygiene among employees are:
- Making sure that the staff wears clean clothing
- They should wash their hands frequently
- Their hair should be covered or tied with a tie
- They should instantly remove excessive jewelry while entering the premises
What measures should be taken to prevent physical hazards in food production?
The following measures may be adopted to prevent physical hazards:
- Use acrylic or covered bulbs to prevent glass breakage
- Wear protective gear
- Cover food products with caps or other clean materials.
- Protect ingredients from pests and rodents.
- Staff must wear protective gear inside the premises.
- Clean ingredients thoroughly before adding them to the food.
Are there any regulations regarding allergen labeling for food products?
Yes, there is. The USFDA established FALCPA (Food Allergen Labeling & Consumer Protection Act) which has ordered 8 major food allergens to be declared on food products:
➔ crustacean shellfish
➔ Tree nuts
What are the 5 safety rules in the kitchen?
There are several rules for people in the kitchen, but here are five of the most critical safety rules for the time when working in the kitchen.
- Practicing regular cleaning of the cooking utensils, the cooking slabs, and the kitchen as a whole must be maintained very cleanly.
- Practice proper hand washing.
- The food must be cooked extremely thoroughly to ensure that biological hazards in the food are not present.
- The raw materials or foods that will be used must be stored properly.
- Make sure that the raw materials and the finished foods are segregated from each other.
What could be 5 foods that can be deemed hazardous due to hazards?
If the food is cooked, cleaned, and prepared as per the protocols, it can be deemed safe for consumption. Some 5 common foods that could be potentially hazardous are
- Cooked or raw meats.
- Freshly cut fruits and vegetables.
- Uncooked rice and pasta.
- Dairy products.
- Seafood cooked inadequately or incorrectly