Food safety

Food safety hazards - The ultimate guide

Food safety hazards are any substance or material that can work its way into any food item and cause any foodborne ...

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  • Food safety hazards are any substance or material that can work its way into any food item and cause any foodborne illness or injury to consumers.
  • Food safety hazards are subdivided into four major categories: biological, chemical, physical, and allergenic hazards.
  • Food hazards, although always present, can be prevented through proper identification and a comprehensive food safety management system.

The food industry is a very complex part of a community. Several factors including biological, physical, and chemical objects are combined and come in contact with the processing of food. This very essence of the foodservice industry tells us that food safety hazards will never be absent from the whole food chain. These hazards will always be present in any food business. They can only be prevented, minimized, or eliminated by implementing preventive and control measures.

Food safety hazards are the main causative agents of foodborne illnesses. They are capable of causing diseases or injuries to consumers which can be mild or life-threatening. Food business owners are responsible for keeping these food safety hazards controlled by ensuring that employees are well-equipped with proper knowledge on food safety. All food safety management systems are built around the objective of controlling these hazards.



What are food safety hazards?

Food safety hazards are any agent found within the food supply chain that can contaminate food materials and cause unwanted health conditions to the public. These hazards contaminate raw materials and finished products as a result of exposure to potential sources. Contamination by food safety hazards can occur anywhere in the food supply chain including harvesting, transit, processing, packaging, delivery, serving, and even storage.

Food safety hazards can either be innately present in foods or can be introduced from external sources. Different foods have their affinity to particular food safety hazards. An example would be the high affinity of peanuts to potent fungal toxins such as aflatoxin. Since this type of food safety hazard can be lethal with long-term exposure, strict food safety laws have been established for them. Additionally, chemical food safety hazards such as acrylamide are common indicators of temperature abuse for heated products and can cause adverse health effects.

Any type of food safety hazard has the potential to cause significant foodborne illnesses and injury especially for immunocompromised individuals such as the elderly, children, and pregnant women. All food handlers must be aware of the basic information about food safety hazards. This task is the first step in knowing how to address them properly. Each type of food safety hazard would need a specific food safety practice to control them. 


food safety hazards on meat


What are the 4 types of food safety hazards?

Food safety hazards are subdivided into 4 different categories. Each category describes the nature of the food safety hazard and gives food handlers an idea of the proper practices needed to control them. Food safety hazards can be any of the following:

  • Biological
  • Chemical
  • Physical
  • Allergenic

These food safety hazards constitute all of the agents that can cause foodborne illnesses or allergic reactions to consumers. Depending on factors such as the level of contamination, the likelihood of occurrence, and the potential damage it can cause, these food safety hazards can mildly or significantly affect public health.

Read more about the types of food safety hazards here.


Here is a more in-depth discussion of these food safety hazards:

Biological hazards

Biological hazards are food safety contaminants that originate from living organisms that include pathogenic bacteria, fungi, yeasts, viruses, and parasites. These hazards can significantly affect the health of the public by causing foodborne illnesses that can range from mild to very severe. They are different from beneficial microorganisms used in fermentation or as probiotics. Biological hazards may also include natural toxins produced by these pathogens. Biological hazards are the most common causes of outbreaks in the food industry.

Food safety hazards such as bacteria and viruses can easily be transferred to food from cross-contamination. These hazards are also dependent on factors surrounding the host food such as:

  • Temperature
  • Presence of oxygen
  • pH (acidity or alkalinity)
  • The nutritional content of foods
  • Water activity or Moisture level


Depending on the presence of these factors, the surviving microbiological hazards may vary. Some dangerous pathogens such as the Clostridium botulinum, which is known for its potency to kill consumers, can only survive in conditions without oxygen and low acidity such as in canned goods.

These conditions also determine the rate at which pathogenic hazards multiply. An example of this condition would be the principle behind the temperature danger zone which is 40°F and 140°F (5°C and 60°C). This temperature range is where most pathogens thrive best and can easily spoil food. Precautions for biological hazards include proper handling practices such as handwashing, regular cleaning, chilling of foods, and thorough cooking.


Common sources of biological hazards

Biological hazards are very common in the food service area and food production sites. Their presence is even larger during the harvesting of raw materials. Here are a few common sources of biological hazards within the food supply chain:

  • Raw materials. All food materials naturally contain biological hazards. Foods are perhaps one of the best sources of these hazards. Raw materials such as root crops, vegetables, and fruits are more prone to harboring soil-borne pathogens and therefore may need proper pretreatment such as washing before use. Additionally, different types of raw meats may contain and are highly susceptible to microbiological hazards. A good example is a common knowledge that poultry meat contains Salmonella and therefore needs thorough cooking. Depending on the quality of the raw materials, the initial load of these hazards may determine how fast spoilage can occur. 

  • Water. In uncontrolled cases, water can become contaminated especially when its source is unsecured with proper pretreatments. Water is known to be the best vector for widely known pathogens such as Escherichia coli, Campylobacter, Norovirus, Hepatitis E, and parasites. Because water is used in almost all operations in the foodservice industry, it can easily spread these potential biological hazards.

  • Food handlers. Naturally, humans house several foodborne pathogens. Approximately 25% of humans and animals have the harmful bacteria Staphyloccocus aureus on their skin. This pathogen is known to cause Staphylococcal food poisoning and about 100,000 serious cases occur in the US alone. In addition to the natural pathogens on human skin, food handlers are one of the fastest vectors that can carry biological food hazards around. This case occurs as what we know as cross-contamination. Without proper food handling practices, employees can spread biological hazards by holding an unclean surface or food to the food being prepared. Food handlers are also common hosts of viruses that make them sick which can be transferred to the food being prepared.

  • Storage area. Whether for raw materials or finished products, the storage area can harbor biological hazards, especially with very minimal packaging. With improper temperature control and a cleaning routine, storage areas can harbor a lot of biological hazards. In the case of refrigerated storage, mixing raw and ready-to-eat foods can spread contamination. Trapped juices or pieces of food in the storage area can also start as a cause of accumulating biological hazards.

  • Food packaging materials. Since packaging materials come into direct contact with food materials, they must be near sterile conditions. Packaging materials such as plastics, cans, or cartons are not entirely free of biological hazards. Bottles, for example, must be completely dry before use to ensure that no moisture can attract biological hazards.

  • Food contact surfaces and equipment. Similar to a storage area and packaging materials, food contact surfaces and processing equipment can harbor biological hazards and cause spoilage. Some pathogens are known to have the ability to produce slime on surfaces that can protect them from regular cleaning procedures. As such, routine cleaning and sanitation procedures are required to prevent this from occurring. 

  • Pests. Pests such as insects, rodents, lizards, and birds can bring pathogenic organisms inside a restaurant in different ways. One, their hair or other parts can fall off into raw materials such as flour or vegetables. Mice hair alone can carry several microbiological hazards. The other way by which pests can spread biological hazards is through their feces or urine. Pests droppings are commonly very small and can sometimes go unnoticed. They can easily work their way into the food being prepared.

Read more about biological hazards from here.

Chemical Hazards

Hazards under this category are chemical substances that are naturally occurring or added to foods that can cause foodborne illness or injury to humans. Natural chemical hazards are harmful substances that are innately present in foods. A good example of natural toxins is saponins from legumes. This compound is a natural part of the toxic defense of plants against harmful microorganisms and insects. This compound can be risky when ingested in high amounts. As such, legumes are pretreated before cooking or consumption.

In addition to naturally occurring chemical hazards, intentionally added ones such as food additives and preservatives are also present in the industry and can be considered chemical contaminants. These additives and preservatives become hazardous when used in excessive amounts or without proper labeling. On the other hand, chemicals such as pesticide residues, fertilizers, antibiotics, machine oil, and heavy metal compounds are considered unintentional chemical hazards and have serious effects on humans when ingested. 


Common sources of chemical hazards

As mentioned, chemical hazards can be naturally present in materials, intentionally added, or unintentionally introduced to foods. In some cases, chemical hazards can also occur as a result of processing abuse, especially in heating treatments. Below are some of the common sources of chemical hazards in the food industry:

  • Raw materials. In addition to the given example above, other food materials such as fish can contain toxins. A very well-known case is that of the pufferfish or Fugu which is a delicacy for Japanese restaurants. This fish contains a powerful neurotoxin called tetrodotoxin which is part of its natural defense. Specialized handling techniques are required to eliminate the risks of this chemical hazard.

  • Heat treatment. In some cases, chemical hazards can be an indication of processing abuse. In the case of the presence of acrylamide, inspectors can surmise that a food has been excessively treated with heat when high levels of acrylamide are present. This compound forms as a result of very high heat and the reaction between proteins and sugars in food.  Prolonged exposure to this compound has been proven to increase the risk of different types of cancer in humans.

  • Cleaning agents. Considered an unintentional chemical hazard, cleaning and sanitation solutions can work their way into foods when improperly washed with water. Sanitizing agents such as chlorine, even in low concentrations can harm food quality and safety. 

  • Additives and preservatives. Compounds such as sodium nitrite which is used in curing meats and sodium sulfite used as an antifungal agent can be considered chemical hazards. For vulnerable individuals, sodium nitrite can cause adverse allergic reactions, whereas sodium nitrite can increase the risk of heart disease. These compounds become considered chemical contamination when used in unregulated amounts beyond the specified standards.

  • Soil amendments. During growing raw materials such as vegetables and fruits, the quality of the soil and the amendments used on it can affect the resulting products. Plants can absorb even unwanted chemicals from the soil. The best example of this is the ability of green tea plants to absorb lead and other heavy metals from the soil around their growing areas. This situation also includes pesticides and fertilizers applied during the growing period.


Read more  about chemical hazards from here.FoodDocs food safety system


Physical Hazards

Physical hazards are any foreign objects or extraneous material that can contaminate food and cause injury or act as a precursor for the growth of pathogens. Physical hazards can be objects such as glass shards, metal fragments, bones, stones, or other debris that can cause cuts, choking, and other serious injuries to the consumer.

This type of hazard can naturally come from food materials such as bones from meat, stems from fruits, or shells from seafood. Other types of physical hazards can come unnaturally from broken production materials including plastics, glass, textile, or jewelry. Contaminants such as nails and hair can also come from food handlers. Physical hazards can sometimes be prevented through physical observations and inspection. At times during large volume productions, an automatic detector can be used.


Common sources of physical hazards

There are a variety of sources of physical hazards in the production line. They can come from pests, machines, or the food handlers themselves. Detection of physical hazards is important as it can also attract or spread other types of hazards. Here are some common sources of physical hazards:

  • Raw materials. As mentioned, physical hazards can naturally come from the raw materials themselves. Bone in meat products is a very common contaminant, as well as leaves and twigs on fruits. In addition, some commodities such as sugar, salt, and flour can also be contaminated with physical hazards such as small rocks depending on the cleanliness of the supplier's production area. Although very common, detection of these physical hazards can prevent injuries in consumers. 

  • Production equipment, utensils. Especially for old equipment and utensils, chips of metal or plastics can come off and get mixed into the food during preparation. Physical hazards such as nails, screws, and broken glass can originate from machines in the production area or kitchen.

  • Food handlers. In the absence of proper food hygiene, food handlers can harbor and contribute to physical hazards. Proper protective uniforms such as hair nets or caps are provided to prevent strands of hair from falling into the dishes being prepared. Additionally, loose jewelry, pen caps, or monitoring forms can also originate from unknowing food handlers. 

  • Pests. Pests contribute a large percentage of physical hazards in the food industry. Insects that die and get cut up into pieces become more capable of contaminating commodities. Rodents such as rats can leave strands of hair anywhere and can carry disease-causing insects with them. Other pests such as birds can also produce droppings that can come in contact with raw materials, especially in large storage areas.


Read more about physical hazards from here.allergenic food safety hazards



Allergens are food safety hazards caused by proteins that the immune system of some individuals mistake as a dangerous foreign matter and cause dangerous reactions. These proteins are natural parts of some foods. Allergenic reactions can cause symptoms that include itching in the mouth or other parts of the skin, hives, swelling, abdominal pain, nausea, and vomiting. In more serious cases, allergens can even cause anaphylaxis which is a severe allergic reaction that causes the blood pressure to drop and for the airways to tighten and block breathing. 

In the US, more than 50 million citizens have been reported to have experiences allergies each year. The early detection of allergens is a must for individuals. Because the results can be life-threatening, food businesses must be wary of the food they serve and properly communicate with consumers the potential allergens present. Notes on the menu or a food allergen poster can be helpful for food businesses. In the US, there are 8 common food allergens, whereas, in the UK, 14 are recognized. 


Common allergens

  • Milk
  • Eggs
  • Shellfish
  • Tree nuts
  • Peanuts
  • Wheat
  • Fish
  • Soybean

*Additional allergens in the UK

  • Mustard
  • Mollusc
  • Sesame
  • Sulfur dioxide and sulfites
  • Celery
  • Lupin


By law, food establishments and manufacturers are required to declare any food allergen present in a food product. Indications may be added on packaging labels or menus as long as they are visible and easy to spot. There is no way of telling whether a consumer has food allergies by visual observation. As such, it is the responsibility of a food business team to inform them of the potential risks in your food products.


To better understand more about food safety hazards, here are a few frequently asked questions about this topic:


Sick food handlers who work with food create what type of food hazard?

  • Sick food handlers are capable of creating biological food safety hazards because of the virus that they currently have. They can spread this hazard through cross-contamination and significantly increase the risk of food poisoning.


What are the 7 kitchen hazards?

  • Seven of the most common kitchen hazards include
    • Cross-contamination
    • Physical injuries from equipment and utensils
    • Accidental chemical contamination of food
    • Burn hazards
    • Contamination of food from physical objects such as jewelry or hair
    • Spoilage of food due to incorrect storage temperature
    • Improper cooking of foods


What are the 5 safety rules in the kitchen?

  • Five of the most important food safety rules in the kitchen include:
    • Regularly wash hands
    • Practice regular cleaning
    • Cook foods thoroughly
    • Chill raw materials or finished foods
    • Segregate raw from finished foods as well as utensils used to prepare them to avoid cross-contamination 


What are 5 potentially hazardous foods?

  • Any type of raw or cooked meats
  • Fresh-cut fruits and vegetables
  • Seafood
  • Dairy products
  • Rice and pasta


How to identify food hazards?

A part of the most prominent food safety management systems such as the Hazard Analysis Critical Control Points (HACCP) system is the proper identification of food hazards. Identification and analysis are proactive approaches in addressing the potential effects of these safety hazards. The basis for hazard identification must be from established and reliable resources as public health depends on them. 


Below are different ways and basis that you can use in identifying hazards:

Review established information

Over the years and as an effort of the scientific community to keep the food industry safe, related literature on common and more complicated food safety hazards has been studied. These hazards are mostly categorized based on the type of food being prepared. These sets of information contain minimum and maximum residue limits that are allowed for a particular food safety hazard as well as appropriate handling practices to address them.

Peer-reviewed scientific articles on common food safety hazards are normally available online. Alternatively, you can also consult with your local food safety authority or larger food safety agencies on the potential food safety hazards and their allowable limits.


Review related news or complaints regarding your products

In addition to scientific studies, news on cases of foodborne illnesses offers valuable information. These reports of food poisoning include information on any causative agent as well as the lapses in food handling practices that could have led to the outbreak. News can include minor cases of foodborne illnesses, major outbreaks, food recalls, significant violations, and new food safety regulations. Food safety agencies usually compile major food poisoning outbreaks as records that you can access to fully equip your team with proper hazard analysis.


Consult with your team and food safety experts

In part of making effective food safety systems, it's important to communicate the plans and procedures with your entire team. During this process, you can gather information from them as well. Those who have already been in the food industry for a very long time can offer valuable information from their experiences. Additionally, you can seek the expertise of food safety consultants in identifying food safety hazards in your process. Their experience can assure you that hazards will be properly identified and analyzed. 


washing vegetables


How can we prevent food hazards?

Food safety hazards, although they will always be present, can surely be controlled or eliminated. There are many food safety and hygiene practices that have been devised to address different food safety hazards and are proven effective. The first step in knowing how to prevent these hazards is having substantial knowledge about them. 


Below are some ways that you could implement in your food business to help address food safety hazards:


Properly identify hazards

With sufficient knowledge about the present food safety hazards in your operations, you can formulate plans on how to address them. Proper identification means listing the potential sources of these hazards as well as factors that can promote their presence. From this information, you can come up with food safety practices that will target their weaknesses or root cause. Addressing these food safety hazards before they even cause widespread foodborne illnesses is more economical and effective in protecting consumer health.

Monitor suppliers

As a food business owner, it's normal to have more than one supplier for the same product. You do not have direct control over their food safety practices but you can set standards that they will have to follow. Because you cannot regularly inspect their management system, you can request certificates and test results as proof of the safety of their supplies. This step requires any supplier to uphold very high standards of food safety practices to satisfy different businesses. In addition, receiving high-quality materials removes the extra burden of having to implement very strict inspection standards and preconditioning on your part.

Observe strict adherence to food safety practices

Obviously, food safety hazards can be controlled with basic food safety practices. This step means following basic food safety rules including:

  • Cleaning
  • Cooking 
  • Chilling
  • Separating (To avoid cross-contamination)

These basic steps are the foundation of most food safety practices. They aim to prevent the spread of pathogenic hazards and control their growth. Steps such as cleaning include personal hygiene practices, proper handwashing, and religious sanitation of different food contact surfaces. Cooking, on the other hand, eliminates biological food safety hazards by subjecting the food to high temperatures that are unfavorable for pathogens. Lastly, to prevent the further spread of pathogens and to control their growth, both raw foods and cooked products are chilled in refrigerated conditions. 

Have a proper pest and waste management system

Waste materials attract pests, and these pests invite a multitude of food safety hazards. Controlling these factors requires a strict management system on how to properly store and dispose of waste materials. Once this has been managed, the first step to eradicating pests, which is removing their source of food, is covered, Adding to this, potential shelters for pests such as dark spots or rarely used storage areas must be kept clean and regularly checked. 

Comprehensive food safety management system

A holistic approach to addressing concerns regarding food safety hazards is having a comprehensive food safety management system (FSMS). This program contains sets of food handling practices that are particular for the food safety hazards in your operations. Additionally, food safety rules and regulations are considered in making an FSMS as a reference for monitoring. To ensure that these practices are followed and that laws and regulations are always in check, monitoring procedures and verification methods must be included in an FSMS.

In addition to these suggestions, higher food safety systems are available in the food industry. These systems include HACCP, ISO, and FSSC which implement very strict hygiene and safety standards for the protection of public health. In addressing food safety hazards, remember that preventing their spread or mere existence is more economically sound and safe for consumers. This lessens the problems with having to control an outbreak and its negative effects on your food business.


Importance of identifying and preventing food safety hazards

Each year, at least 600 million people become afflicted with foodborne illnesses because of contaminated foods in a year. This translates to 1 in 10 people in the world which significantly affects all other industries each year. Foodborne illnesses reduce productivity in any community as the labor force becomes unable to perform well. The first step to preventing the occurrence of these foodborne illnesses is the proper identification of food safety hazards.

More than just simple foodborne diseases, food safety hazards can cause death or serious injuries in severe cases. This does not only pose a great threat to public health but your food business as well. Consumers value the sense of safety that a food business provides them. If news linking your food business to any food safety issue becomes reported, you can risk losing your market and profit significantly.

In terms of internal advantages, properly identifying food safety hazards and communicating them with your team encourages a more productive work system. When food handlers are aware of what they should monitor and which practices should be avoided, work becomes faster and more efficient. This also allows your team to identify which practices would be most effective to eliminate specific food safety hazards. It also gives them an idea of which foo safety laws need to be followed.


Digital solution to food safety hazards

With proper identification, analysis, processing, and monitoring, food safety hazards can be significantly controlled. To do this, food business owners must be able to implement a working and comprehensive FSMS in their food business system. These processes must be manually manned by an employee to ensure that they are being carried out properly. On top of that and as the owner, it is your task to oversee every single task being applied every day. This is on top of managing your daily business operations.

As the food industry pushes forward with a more technological strategy, our team at FoodDocs has taken our approach to food safety to another level. At FoodDocs, we offer a digital Food Safety Management System that is automatically generated and powered by artificial intelligence based on your everyday operations. We have taken out the laborious process of conducting meetings and everyday huddles with your team just to come up with a comprehensive FSMS. Our system can generate this program for you in a digital format and just an average of 15 minutes!

Our process starts by asking you a few questions regarding your food business operations. These questions include the nature of your operations, target consumer, number of expected daily consumers, and the like. With this set of information, our machine-learning program will generate a complete digital FSMS for you. Monitoring operations in this FSMS are all based on your daily tasks.


When you sign up with us at FoodDocs for our digital FSMS services, you can get the following benefits:

  • Digital monitoring forms and checklists that can be intuitively set to be automatically filled to save more time for your employees. The information entered into these forms will be based on your previous data entries. No need to manually enter the values and all that is left to do is to verify the information.
  • In addition to monitoring forms, our system suggests the most important food safety testing and evaluations for identified food safety hazards in your business.
  • You can also get a smart notification system that sends concerned employees an alert through our mobile app whenever a food safety task is due. This feature can help ensure that every identified food safety hazard is addressed every day.
  • Save at least 20% of your time from managing your everyday food safety operations with our real-time dashboard. This feature can help you highlight areas that need improvement so you can focus on them more.
  • Store, organize, and access all your digital files from one location using the cloud storage that you can get from our digital FSMS services.


All documents that we automatically generate for you in this digital FSMS are fully customizable to accommodate unique operations in your food business. Choose to become more sustainable when it comes to monitoring your everyday operations by going digital. Leave behind all paper-based monitoring procedures and make your workforce more efficient as you shift to a digital platform.

With our digital FSMS at FoodDocs, you can rest easy that all food safety hazards can be addressed in a timely and efficient manner. Our system can help you remain compliant with the most significant food safety laws and regulations and protect public health from food safety risks. Start making your digital FSMS in just 15 minutes with our free 14-day trial, and continue your journey with us by availing of our plans.



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