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Food safety hazards explained

What is meant by the term food safety hazards?

Food safety hazards are when a substance or material appears in food, making it unsafe to consume as it may cause illness or injury to the consumer. Hazards can range from mild to life-threatening.


Food hazards will be present in all aspects of the food supply chain. Risks can be removed or minimised by understanding the potential hazards; and having protocols such as a comprehensive Food Safety Management System (FSMS) in place to control any hazards that may arise.


Who is responsible?

The responsibility of controlling food safety hazards lands on the food business owner. The Food Standards Agency expects all employees to undergo food safety training, be well equipped and that a Food Safety Management System (FSMS) is in place to control these hazards.


Four types of hazards

Food safety hazards are divided into four main categories:

  1. Biological

  2. Chemical

  3. Physical

  4. Allergenic

Biological

Microorganisms are found throughout our daily lives in the air, water, animals, and the human body and do not normally cause you any problems. The problem occurs when food becomes contaminated with harmful microorganisms such as bacteria, fungi, yeasts, viruses, and parasites.


Environment factors can play a significant role in contamination. Preventing a breeding ground for bacteria and viruses is vital, and can be done by monitoring the environment surrounding the food such as:

  • Temperature

    • The ‘Danger Zone' that encourages bacterial growth is between 8°C and 60°C. Below 8°C, growth is stopped or significantly slowed down. Above 60°C bacteria starts to die.

  • Moisture level

    • Microorganisms thrive in wetter environments, making moist foods a hotbed for microorganism growth.

  • pH level (acidity or alkalinity)

    • Less acidic foods tend to process bacteria much faster than acidic foods. This is why milk and yogurt tend to go off quicker than orange juice.

Examples

Preventive measures

Raw fruit and vegetables are more likely to harbor soil-borne pathogens.

Wash thoroughly before use. Clearly indicate dedicated workspace

Raw meats are prone to microorganisms problems such as Salmonella.

Cooked thoroughly. Clearly indicate dedicated workspace

Pests such as insects, and rodents spread microorganisms through hair, feces, or urine that can have contact with food.

Clean regularly to prevent attracting pests

Food packaging has direct contact with foods, so microorganisms can spread if the packaging is not sterilized between uses. Which can result in Norovirus, Clostridium perfringens, and Campylobacter.

Thoroughly cleaning packaging between uses to near sterile condition

In refrigerated stores, a range of different food types of microorganisms can spread across foods if not stored correctly. If refrigerator temperature is not maintained correctly bacteria may spread more quickly.

Storage strategy, regular temperature control and cleaning routine

Cross-contamination can occur through Kitchen surfaces and equipment when mixing foods such as raw and ready-to-eat foods.

Regular cleaning and using colour coding equipment


Chemical

Chemical hazards occur when harmful substances are found in food.

Types of chemical hazards:

  1. This may be natural, which some plants and animals contain as a natural defense.

  2. Intentionally added substances such as food additives and preservatives can become harmful if they exceed the recommended amount.

  3. Unintentionally added substances such as antibiotics, machine oil, and heavy metal compounds.

Examples of chemical hazard

Examples

Preventive measures

In certain conditions, Fungi can produce Mycotoxins which are toxic to humans.


Pufferfish contain a very dangerous poison called tetrodotoxin which is part of its natural defense.

Specialised handling and preparations

Cleaning products such as chlorine can enter foods if not washed with water which can cause illness.

Proper use of cleaning products and store chemicals in a dedicated area away from food products

Plants can absorb chemicals that are in the soil such as pesticides and metals.

Wash produce and ensure that your product is coming from a reputable supplier


Physical

Physical hazards are when foreign objects are found in food. These could be natural such as a fruit stone or fish bone or unnatural such as hair or shade of glass. Physical hazards can cause choking, cuts, or illness. Unnatural physical hazards can also cause the spread of other hazards such as Biological.

Examples

Preventive measures

Contamination can occur during food preparation, such as when a strand of hair or fake nail is lost in food.

Wearing protective workwear such as hair nets and inspecting food

Using old or damaged equipment can cause metal or plastic to chip and contaminate food.

Inspect equipment regularly and replace it if damaged

Pests can leave behind hair and feces that can enter food without knowing.

Clean regularly, and immediately address any sign of pests

Allergenic

An allergic reaction is caused when the individual's body takes an abnormal immune response to a particular protein found in food. The individual's body mistakes the protein as dangerous and works to attack it.


In the U.K there are 14 common allergens that are required to be declared by food law.


Allergic reactions can include: itching in the mouth or other parts of the skin, swelling, abdominal pain, nausea, and vomiting. In more serious cases, allergens can cause anaphylaxis. This is when blood pressure drops, the airway constricts, and tongue or throat becomes swollen, causing wheezing and trouble breathing.


Preventive measures

  • Ensure staff are asking customers if they have any allergies

  • Have ingredients information readily available and up to date

  • Effective sanitation

  • Have cross-contamination guidelines in place


Facts and figures

  • Foodborne illness is on the rise. A review by the Food Standards Agency (FSA) has estimated that around 2.4 million cases of foodborne illness occur every year in the UK. This is up from the 2009 estimate of approximately one million. That is a significant increase.

  • Biological hazards are the most common causes of outbreaks in the food industry.

  • According to Allergy UK, as many as 20% of the UK population experience some reactions to foods that make them believe they have a food hypersensitivity

  • An estimated 380,000 cases of norovirus in the UK per year are linked to food hygiene.

  • Norovirus main transmission pathways in food:


Tips to prevent food safety hazards

  1. Having control measures in place, such as ensuring all appropriate monitoring is undertaken and documented.

  2. Train staff on food safety

  3. Having a robust food safety management system in place that is reviewed regularly

  4. Act immediately on issues that arise.

Find out how the Hubl app can help reduce the risk of food safety hazards in your business.


References

Statistics and Figures, Allergy UK, Accessed August 2022 Cooking your food, Food Standards Agency, Accessed August 2022 Food allergy and intolerance, Food Standards Agency, Accessed August 2022 FSA research suggests new higher estimates for the role of food in UK illness, Food Standards Agency, Accessed August 2022

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