Consuming unsafe food can harm the body. Food hazards are responsible for causing harm, such as allergic reactions, injuries, and foodborne illnesses. These contaminants will compromise the suitability and safety of your food. Unsafe food can affect the whole food chain.
Each year, countries across the globe lose a significant amount of economic gains due to foodborne illnesses that result from consuming unsafe food. As a result, it’s essential to understand the hazards that make your food unsafe for consumption and the role of hazard analysis of critical control points (HACCP). Besides the food x-ray machine myths out there, here are four actual hazards that make food unsafe.
1. Biological Hazards
Also known as microbiological hazards, biological hazards are one of the most common hazards that contaminate foods. This type of food hazard happens when your food becomes contaminated with a microorganism.
As their name suggests, microorganisms are tiny living organisms that aren’t visible to the naked eye. This means you’ll need a microscope to see a microorganism. Since they’re very tiny, microorganisms are everywhere, from air to water, soil, humans, and animals. As a result, they can easily contaminate your food and affect the entire supply chain.
Microbiological hazards include;
- Bacteria such as campylobacter, listeria, and salmonella.
- Viruses such as hepatitis A and norovirus.
- Fungi such as molds and yeasts.
- Parasites such as protozoa and worms.
Fortunately, not all microbiological organelles cause illnesses. Various healthy and beneficial microorganisms are present in drinks and foods. Probiotics that are present in dairy products and yeast used in alcohol and bread production are perfect examples.
However, most microorganisms are responsible for causing food contamination resulting in foodborne illnesses. Such microorganisms are referred to as pathogens. In addition to microorganisms, biological hazards can also include pests such as flies, rodents, and various insects, as they’re known for being carriers of microorganisms.
2. Chemical Hazards
Chemical hazards can be both artificial or occur naturally. There are times when chemicals are added intentionally to the food to enhance taste and shelf life, with sodium nitrates and sulfites as examples.
Unfortunately, some chemicals are added to the food unintentionally, and they cause contamination. These hazards include toxins, excess chemicals during food processing, and other dangerous substances.
Consuming food contaminated with chemicals will cause harm or long-term health problems. These effects can be adverse when a consumer is exposed to these chemical hazards for a long period.
Toxins are chemical hazards that occur naturally and are produced by microorganisms, plants, and animals. For instance;
- Mycotoxins. These are chemical hazards that are produced by fungi.
- Ochratoxins. These chemical hazards are present in vine fruits like raisins, currants, and sultanas.
- Aflatoxins. They’re commonly found in corn, tree nuts, and peanuts.
- Natural toxins. These chemical toxins are produced by plants, such as glycoalkaloids in potatoes.
- Marine toxin. These are found in shellfish and fish.
- Bacterial toxins. They’re produced by bacteria like E.coli.
On the other hand, accidental chemical hazard contamination includes;
- Agricultural chemicals such as fertilizers, pesticides, herbicides, and fungicides.
- Environmental pollutants such as polychlorinated biphenyls.
- Toxic metals such as arsenic, zinc, cyanide, and mercury.
- Processing chemical hazards.
3. Physical Hazards
Foreign objects and materials that enter your food are considered physical hazards. They’re also referred to as extraneous matter. When ingested, these physical hazards can cause the following;
- Damage to your teeth.
- Cut in your gums and mouth.
- Injury to your esophagus or the food pipe, intestine, stomach, and throat. In the worst-case scenario, you may require surgery to remove it from your gastrointestinal tract (GIT).
- Choking, which at times can be fatal.
At times, physical hazards can be chemical or biological such as plastic or rat droppings. However, physical food hazards can come from various sources and at any stage of food production. Here are some examples of physical hazards;
- Glass. This can come from materials such as bottles, jars, and light bulbs.
- Plastic. This is the main cause of physical food hazards, and it can result from packaging materials, utensils, and containers.
- Wood. This tends to occur when food is stored unprotected in wooden structures.
- Metal. This type of physical hazard tends to occur more often during food production in machinery. At times it can result from bolts and nuts, utensils, shots, and wire.
- Human cause. This type of physical hazard consists of fingernails and hair. It often occurs due to improper hygiene procedures.
In most cases, physical hazards occur during the harvest and manufacturing process. This is why you should focus on hazard analysis of critical control points (HACCP) to eliminate these physical hazards before reaching the consumer. However, most companies indicate label warning that warns their consumers of physical hazards, especially if their products are sourced naturally.
4. Allergenic Hazards
Food can be rendered unsafe for consumption due to allergenic hazards. Naturally, allergens are proteins responsible for causing hypersensitivity reactions that can be dangerous in some people. When you consume food containing an allergen you’re allergic to, you’ll experience an allergic reaction where an abnormal immune response is produced in the body.
An allergic reaction can cause the production of irritating symptoms. However, the reaction tends to differ from one person to another. This means that you might experience irritating symptoms, while in someone else, it can trigger life-threatening anaphylaxis. It’d be best if you didn’t mistake an allergic reaction for food intolerance. Peanut is a common food allergen among most people, while milk is the best example of food intolerance among many.
Allergic reactions can be deadly, with many cases having been reported over the past few years of severe food allergy reaction-related deaths. Avoiding food containing allergens is the best way to avoid allergic reactions or allergy-related death.
Some individuals tend to have extreme allergic reactions when they consume the smallest quantity of their allergens. Therefore, you should always try to figure out and avoid foods containing your allergens.
Different types of food hazards have different reactions and cause various food-related illnesses. Therefore, as a food handler, it’s vital to have ideas on these hazardous materials by undergoing training. Doing so, you’ll be well informed on promptly identifying and addressing such hazards.However, you don’t have to work in the food industry or be a food handler to understand these food hazards. Food poisoning can occur to anyone, and the best way to prevent it is by knowing the hazards that make your food unsafe for consumption. Therefore, by clearly understanding the hazards discussed in this article, you can always keep yourself and your family safe from foodborne illnesses.