Food safety

Physical hazard in food

Physical hazards account for one of the most common reasons for food recalls in the food industry.

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Physical hazards account for one of the most common reasons for food recalls in the food industry.

  • Any foreign object that is unintended to be on the food is considered a physical hazard.
  • Physical hazards can cause cuts in the mouth, choking, or broken teeth when uncontrolled.
  • Monitoring delivery maintenance of equipment, proper cleaning, and sanitation are key food safety procedures to minimize the presence of physical hazards.

Inedible food materials, such as metal, bones, and seeds, are common contaminants of food during preparation. Most of the known physical hazards in foods are originally part of the raw material or the equipment used to process them. Any physical hazard in food can be very dangerous for both the customer and your business. A common case can cause issues as light as a consumer complaint or can be as serious as a food safety incident or injury requiring intensive care.

Foreign materials or physical hazards were the leading cause of food recalls in 2019. While the cases of recalls in 2022 due to foreign objects were reduced, the case still remains a top reason for food recalls. The USDA report identifies foreign objects as the second reason for most numbers of recalls in 2022. Reports of recalls related to your business areconsidered bad publicity and will negatively affect consumer perception.

Protect your food business and customers by establishing our FSMS software from FoodDocs. Set up automatic solutions such as digital monitoring logs based on analyzed hazards using our system.

Learn more about the nature of physical hazards in food and how to establish our digital Food Safety Management System.

Here is a list of the major topics in this article about physical hazards:



What is a physical hazard in food?

Physical hazards are naturally occurring or unintentionally introduced materials into the food system that can injure customers or cause foodborne illness. Physical hazards are otherwise called foreign materials. It is one of the major hazards during food preparation.

They can be synthetic materials and sharp substances that are from the environment of the food being produced, such as metal, plastic, glass fragments, or stones. Physical hazards can also be environmental contaminants or natural parts of a product that cannot be eaten, such as bones, feathers, and seeds.

The Food and Drug Administration identifies physical hazards as any hard or sharp foreign materials found in food. The presence of physical hazards in food can lead to injury from cuts or broken teeth, especially with hard objects. In some cases, they can also lead to choking. Some physical hazards are also known carriers of other types of hazards, such as bacteria and chemical substances like heavy metals.

Federal agencies established minimum guidelines that will trigger legal actions in case of foreign material detection in food. Detection of any physical hazard in food can cause a wide recall of products. Also, failure to control physical hazards can put public health at risk.


Physical hazard vs physical contamination

Physical hazard in food refers to a foreign object that can contaminate foods and cause food-related injuries to consumers. The hazard can be any object from the production environment or a naturally occurring object that is part of the raw material itself.

On the other hand, physical contamination is the presence of a physical hazard in food. When the hazard enters the production system, the event is called physical contamination.


Examples of physical hazards in food

Physical hazards can come in many different shapes and sizes. Depending on the nature of your food operations, the most common physical hazards may vary. For example, an operation using poultry meat is most likely to encounter feathers and chicken nail trimmings when compared with a fresh fruit and vegetable business.


To give you an idea, here is a list of physical hazard examples in food:

Physical hazard Common objects associated with the physical hazard
Metal fragments Chipped equipment for processing, blades, tools, staple wires, jewelry, or loose clips
Glass Broken light fixtures, windows, overhead structures, glass guards, and containers
Plastic or rubber Packaging, equipment wrapper, plastic seal, gaskets, or pens
Stone/sand Dirt from raw materials or improperly cleaned footwear
Wood Wooden pallets, crates, parts of raw materials, pencil
Naturally occurring hazards Bones from meat, pieces of shell from seafood, a feather from poultry, and seeds from fruits

Any physical object from the food supply chain that can injure or choke the consumer can be considered a physical hazard. The unintentional presence of foreign materials in food may indicate poor food handling practices or the lack of critical controls in place. In some consumers, physical hazards may cause long-term health effects or chronic illness.

Monitoring raw materials upon delivery, maintenance of equipment, and proper cleaning and sanitation are key food safety standards to minimize the presence of physical hazards. You can ensure all of these operations are in check when you use our digital Food Safety Management System from FoodDocs.


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Using our digital solution, you can automatically get monitoring logs with detailed instructions that will help you ensure the correct execution of food safety tasks. Our system also features a smart notification system that reminds employees of tasks that need to be done on time.


physical hazards shown in food


The most common physical hazards in food

Some of the most common physical hazards in food include the following in no particular order:

  • Metal
  • Plastic
  • Rocks
  • Glass

The objects that are considered significant physical hazards may have different visual characteristics. This means that the risks that they have also differ significantly.

If an inspector or consumer finds any physical hazard in your products and files a complaint, your team will need to follow an investigation. The affected batch of foods may be held for inspection.

The FDA established guidelines for describing the physical hazards in foods and situations that can cause detention. 

According to the guidelines, the food in question will be held for stricter inspection if the following are observed:

  • A hard or sharp foreign object that is at least 7 mm to 25 mm long was found in the food product.
  • When the product will no longer be processed with an additional step to reduce or eliminate the risk of the observed physical hazard.

Stricter guidelines for issuing recalls are also available. Such reports show the significance of controlling physical hazards to maintain customer confidence and business status.


Physical hazards in the kitchen

Foods in the kitchen can be contaminated by physical hazards without proper food safety management. The kitchen is a hotspot for contamination when there are no controls in place.

Food safety hazards from the raw materials can contaminate finished products and food handlers can unknowingly cause cross - contamination.

Some of the most common physical hazards or foreign objects in food that may occur in the kitchen include the following:

    • Pieces of plastic from food packaging or cleaning material seal
    • Human hair when hair restraints are not worn
    • Pest hair and droppings
    • Dirt and sand from food crops and other fresh produce (e.g., dirt on potatoes)
    • Glass or metal from broken equipment or light bulb
    • Bones in meat and fish
    • Nail clippings or jewelry from food handlers
    • Tape residues on equipment


dirt shown on food


The foods prepared in the kitchen can be protected from physical hazards when there are proper controls in place. Preventive controls such as providing hair restraints and gloves can significantly reduce the risk of contamination of the food production process.

Food manufacturers and handlers must also undergo food safety training in any preparation process. This is a critical part of their routine to learn how to protect food and consumer health. In addition, establishing a pest management plan and maintenance program is critical for maintaining food safety in your operations.

Establish a complete food safety plan with critical programs such as waste, pest, and maintenance management programs with FoodDocs' digital Hazard Analysis Critical Control Point plan builder. Automatically get a comprehensive food safety plan that you can further customize to fit your operations better. Get detailed preventive controls and prerequisite programs that are essential for controlling physical and other types of food safety hazards.


What can physical hazards in food cause?

Significantly large physical hazards can endanger the lives of consumers. In some cases, a customer may choke or get cut by a sharp object. On the other hand, less serious cases may lead to loss of appetite and consumer confidence, such as when they find a strand of hair in the food.

In general, physical hazards in food can cause the following effects:

  • Food-related injury. This effect includes cuts in the mouth, throat, and intestines, broken teeth, or choking.
  • Foodborne illness. Physical hazards can sometimes directly cause illnesses. In other cases, physical hazards in food items can trigger bacterial growth and other biological hazards, which can then cause symptoms of food poisoning.
  • Food recall. When a physical food hazard exceeds the limit provided by a ruling food agency, the affected foods can be recalled. The recall will involve cooperation with the health department and a voluntary public announcement to warn the potential and already affected consumers.
  • Legal actions or lawsuits. In serious cases, affected consumers can file for legal action against your food business. This case usually happens when the customer is significantly injured.
  • Loss of profit. Once customers hear about any news relating to your food business with any physical hazard contamination, their confidence in your approach may be negatively affected. In addition, handling a food recall requires a lot of effort and money.

Physical hazards can lead to a lot of problems for your food business. The cost of handling issues related to physical hazards can significantly outweigh your profits. In very serious cases, recalls due to physical hazards can lead to business closure.

In a study conducted by the Grocery Manufacturers Association, it was estimated that a food recall costs an average of $10 million. This cost significantly varies depending on the size of the distribution and other factors.


Factors affect the risk of a physical hazard in food

Food handlers must be particularly trained in analyzing physical hazards in food to understand their significance.

Always include the following factors when analyzing the effects of physical hazards:

    • Size, shape, and hardness of the hazard. The physical characteristics of a hazard can determine its risk level. Hard, big, and sharp objects are more likely to cause injury than soft and small foreign objects.
    • Type of hazard. Dry products such as small pieces of metal, although dangerous, are less likely to allow the growth of bacteria and other pathogenic microorganisms. This type of hazard is more likely to be accompanied by a potential chemical hazard, such as oils or cleaning agents, which have a different risk level from biological hazards.
    • Type of affected consumers. Consumer groups including children under five years old, pregnant women, and the elderly are more prone to injury and foodborne illness from physical hazards. These customers have a weaker immune response and can easily get chronic illnesses.
    • Type of affected products. The risk level of a physical hazard is also affected by the product where the hazard was found. If in case the hazard is found in infant formula, then the risk is immediately considered a priority.

Hazard analysis is a critical step for establishing preventive controls and monitoring procedures. The suitability of the preventive controls for the hazards will depend on the accuracy of the hazard analysis.

You can use our free Hazard Template as a guide for determining the appropriate controls for the physical hazards in your operations.


Where are physical hazards commonly found?

Foreign bodies can enter the food chain system at any point of the processing. Potential physical hazards can be inside the kitchen or introduced by outside factors. Without clear and comprehensive monitoring of important food safety policies, the foreign object may reach the customer and harm them.

In this section, we listed down some of the most common sources of physical food safety hazards in the food industry:

  • Food handlers. Improperly trained food handlers who do not practice personal hygiene can become a common source of physical hazards. The simplest physical hazard in food example is the contamination of products with hair. Improperly trained employees may forget to wear hair restraints or improperly put them on. This case increases the risk of finding hair on the food product that they will serve or causing food spoilage. Always ensure that food handlers perform personal hygiene practices at all times.
  • Raw materials. Some parts of raw food can be considered a physical hazard, especially when they are not intended to be eaten. A common occurrence is the presence of bones in dishes with meat. Small fragments of bone may slip into the food being prepared and cause cuts and severe reactions in consumers. Other extraneous materials from raw foods may include seeds and inedible leaves.
  • Equipment and tools. Old pieces of equipment and tools are very prone to broken or chipped parts. For example, an unmaintained machine may have a loose screw that could fall into a batch of food being prepared. Another example is when food handlers are using an old brush when marinating meat. The bristles of the brush may come off and become incorporated into the raw meat being cooked.
  • Cleaning and sanitation tools. The plastic seals on the cleaning bottles may come off and stick to food surface materials, and then the food. Another example is when food handlers are using a loose mop, strands of the mop may fall into a batch of raw ingredients and contaminate the food product. What makes this source dangerous is that it may also carry harmful substances, such as chemical hazards including toxic metals.
  • Packaging materials. Similar to the bottles of cleaning solutions, food packaging materials can also lead to food contamination. Soft packaging materials can get poked or torn, and the pieces may get incorporated into the manufacturing process, making the food unsafe for consumption.
  • Pests. Pests can carry other potential hazards that can increase the risk of food poisoning. Although considered biological beings, the parts of pests that fall into food are physical hazards. The extraneous matters may include strands of hair, tail, nails, feather, and droppings. These parts can also carry illness-causing microbiological hazards, making them critical elements in food production.

For example, strands of hair can carry hazardous toxins or other harmful microorganisms.  They can also spread allergenic hazards when left uncontrolled.


plastic hazards


Physical hazards may also come from other uncommon places such as clumps of dust from vents. It is important for a food business team to properly identify points where physical hazards may come from and set up monitoring controls when necessary. Food service professionals must also be trained on how to prevent the contamination of physical hazards in food.


What should a food worker do to prevent a physical hazard from making food unsafe to eat?

Although the risk of physical hazards in food safety may be critical, its occurrence can be significantly reduced with very simple handling procedures. In fact, control methods for some extraneous materials are practical approaches like using a magnet or installing protective gears.


Follow this list of food safety guidelines and tips to help food workers control physical hazards:

  • Identify and analyze all potential physical hazards in your operations.
  • Install automatic detecting machines or advanced inspection systems (e.g., metal detectors or x-ray machines). *This task can be considered a part of operational prerequisite programs.
  • Install magnets along with detecting machines.
  • Implement strict screening and visual inspections of raw materials.
  • Request certificates of analysis from suppliers of raw materials as proof that they conducted physical screening of products.
  • Implement and monitor Good Manufacturing Practices:
  • Implement an effective maintenance program for equipment and machines.
  • Immediately replace loose curtains, damaged light fixtures, and cracked windows.
  • Regularly clean air vents to avoid airborne debris.
  • Install an effective pest control system.
  • Schedule regular cleaning and sanitation of food contact materials and safe food storage areas.
  • Train food handlers in handling physical hazards. Use our food safety quiz tool to help train your employees regularly.

Proper identification and analysis are keys to establishing working protective measures. When your team has analyzed which physical hazards are most likely to cause problems, you can save time in identifying the appropriate preventive controls.

Once the proper analysis and preventive controls are in place, your food facility can reduce the risk of physical hazard contamination. You can ensure safe food storage, clean food contact surfaces, and safe food items.

Learn how you can automatically analyze the physical hazards in your operations at the end of this article!


What should food handlers do if a physical hazard is detected?

Once a physical hazard is detected, the most important reaction is to physically remove the foreign material without contaminating the food item. Once removed, the foreign material must then be properly disposed of. This method will significantly reduce the observed risk to food safety.

Other supporting corrective actions must also be done. Follow these steps when food handlers detect a physical hazard:

  • Immediately remove the observed physical hazard from the food product. Avoid unnecessary contact that will contaminate the food.
  • If possible, document the observed physical hazard.
  • Properly dispose of the physical hazard. When impossible to throw away the foreign matter, collect it in a sealed container away from the food preparation area and dispose of it later.
  • Inspect the food and other batches for similar cases.
  • Report the incident to the manager and seek the help of other concerned departments.
  • Do not release a contaminated food product from the kitchen.


If in case the incident is caused by a food handler, a refresher training course is needed. Early detection and a quick response can significantly save your food business from a lot of trouble.


How do you identify physical hazards in food?

To identify and analyze a physical hazard, the food handler must perform an assessment. The following questions must be asked when analyzing a foreign object in food:

  • Is the object a part of the dish?
  • Can the object cause harm or loss of appetite?
  • How likely is the hazard to occur and make the food unsafe in the operation?
  • How can the foreign object be removed without contaminating the product?

These questions will determine the nature and criticality of the foreign object.


How can I automatically analyze physical hazards?

Identifying and analyzing physical hazards can take a lot of time from your food safety operations. In addition, whenever you have a new or an alternative raw material and food product, you would need to perform the analysis again.

Accurate physical hazard identification and analysis will determine the effectiveness of your preventive measures. Failure to analyze the food safety risk of a foreign material may become an opportunity for the hazard to enter any stage of food production

At FoodDocs, you can automatically get a comprehensive list of the physical hazards related to your operations, along with the other types of food hazards. Using artificial intelligence and a machine learning program, our system can generate a comprehensive digital HACCP plan for your business in just 1 hour.

FoodDocs' digital HACCP plan builder uses stored information from local food safety regulations and previously analyzed businesses to create highly detailed and customizable food safety plans.


HACCP_template (1)

Digital HACCP Plan at FoodDocs


When you use our system, you can get a customizable hazard analysis that contains the following components:

    • Type of hazard
    • Severity/ Likelihood of hazard (presented in levels)
    • Justification
    • Preventive controls
    • CCP decision


Our hazard analysis system uses a risk hazard assessment matrix to determine the criticality of food safety hazards. You can further tailor the analysis to your operation. For example, if a physical hazard is considered more critical for your business, you can simply click on the severity/likelihood scale to change the analysis. 

In addition to the hazard analysis section, you will also get all of the other critical parts of a HACCP food safety plan, such as the following:

  • Established critical control points with appropriate critical limits
  • Monitoring procedures
  • Corrective action plan
  • Verification procedures
  • Recordkeeping and documentation procedures


FoodDocs HACCP plan product features

FoodDocs HACCP Plan Builder


More than the main components of a HACCP plan, our software also generates the essential prerequisite program documents. You can get the most relevant programs for controlling physical hazards:

    • Waste management plan
    • Maintenance program
    • Pest control system

What sets our software apart is that you can get a digital HACCP plan in just an average of 1 hour! That significantly cuts the time you would have been spending using the traditional method for making a HACCP plan.

Our digital HACCP plan builder also makes incorporating revisions and suggestions for improvement from food safety inspectors. When you receive feedback, you can easily head to your HACCP plan dashboard, apply revisions, and further customize with just a few clicks!


How can I help my team in preventing physical hazards?

Once you get compliant with the help of our software, you can continue your compliance journey by staying consistent with the preventive controls you established. FoodDocs' digital Food Safety Management System uses the same database and program to automatically generate the most essential digital monitoring logs, checklists, and smart features for maintaining compliance.

Make monitoring tasks easier with the following features:

  • Monitoring logs. Get automatically generated monitoring logs with detailed instructions based on the most relevant operations in your food business for controlling physical hazards:
    • Receiving chilled goods log



Receiving chilled goods log from FoodDocs


    • Employee hygiene checklist
    • Cleaning and sanitation checklist
  • Smart notification system. Never forget any important task with our smart notification system that alerts food handlers regarding a task that needs to be done. With this feature, you can ensure that all tasks are done on time and completely.
  • Pest management audit. Use our in-app feature and upload your Pest Management Audit list. Make auditing more accessible by incorporating your outsourced audit list into the app and performing the task using any mobile device.
  • Equipment maintenance log. Make reporting an easy task. Using our app, you can use our Equipment Maintenance Log and create tickets to alert the concerned department. With this feature, corrective actions can be quick and reduce the likelihood of contamination.
  • Traceability system. In case of a recall or traceability verification, you can use our application and Traceability System. Simply enter the important information about your products and the information will be presented in an organized dashboard.

Protect your consumers from all types of hazards using our digital solution. With our digital Food Safety Management System, you can ensure that food safety compliance is always controlled in the most efficient way.

Similar to our digital HACCP plan, you can further customize your digital monitoring system to accommodate unique operations. Get the flexibility that a monitoring system must have and the efficiency of smart solutions.

Experience our digital solutions using our free 14-day trial now.




Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

Do you need more information about how to prevent physical hazards in your operations? Here are some of the most frequently asked questions about this topic:


How should food workers prevent physical hazards from injuring customers?

The best food handling practice to prevent physical hazards from injuring customers is to practice strict personal hygiene. This task involves not wearing jewelry, clipping nails, wearing hair restraints, and proper uniform. In addition, food handlers must also keep all loose objects, such as pens, away from the preparation area and always schedule equipment maintenance.


Is physical hazard usually set as a Critical Control Point?

Preventive control for a physical hazard is considered a critical control point if there is no other operation that will eliminate the risk of a foreign object from the cooked food. If the operation, such as metal detection, is the last task that can eliminate the physical hazard, then it is considered a critical control point. Cooking cannot remove physical hazards.


What are the physical hazard risks of food?

Physical hazards in food, whether unintentional or deliberate food contamination, can cause food-related injuries, including cuts, broken teeth, and choking.


What are the physical hazards of meat?

The most common physical hazards connected with meat include fragments of bones and hair strands. These physical hazards are natural components of the meat and can enter the food processing system when improperly removed.



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