Thanks to some of the world’s most thorough food safety laws, the U.S. has a comparatively high level of food safety. While we benefit greatly from the peace of mind this provides, the system is not perfect, and accidents happen. It helps to know how to keep yourself and others safe from hazardous foods. Three types of hazards make food unsafe and should be avoided. Read on to learn everything you need to know about staying safe from hazardous foods.
What Are the Three Types of Hazards That Make Food Unsafe?
Biological food hazards refer to any harmful organism living in food. Examples of biological hazards include germs, bacteria, viruses, mold, and parasites.
How Biological Hazards Make Food Unsafe
Biological hazards make food unsafe because they can cause foodborne illnesses. Some examples of foodborne illnesses are Salmonella, E. coli, and norovirus.
Chemical food hazards are related to the consumption of harmful chemicals in food. A few of the most common chemical hazards are mycotoxins, pesticides, and industrial compounds like bleach, PCBs, and ball clay.
How Chemical Hazards Can Make Food Unsafe
Chemical food hazards are dangerous because they introduce chemicals into the human body that shouldn’t be there. These chemicals can cause nerve damage, lung problems, organ failure, and even death.
Physical hazards are non-food articles that make it into food. If you’ve ever had a hair in your food, that constitutes exposure to a physical food hazard. Other physical hazards can include everything from construction dust and animal feces, to metallic and non-metallic contaminants including glass, ceramic, stone, bone, and plastic.
How Physical Hazards Can Make Food Unsafe
Physical contaminants represent choking hazards, the risk of chemical and biological food hazards, and the potential for lacerations in the mouth or broken teeth.
How To Prevent Hazards From Your Food
There are a few good rules of thumb to follow to avoid consuming hazardous food, whether out in the world or at home.
How To Avoid Hazardous Foods in Public Places
- Keep your eyes open: This is the first and most important step in safeguarding yourself from hazardous foods in public places. Do a quick check of your food before you begin eating it. As you practice this, you will increase your odds of spotting a physical hazard in your food and perhaps even be able to identify biological hazards such as mold.
- Use your nose: Your nose is one of your best early warning tools against food hazards. Bacterial growth, chemicals, and physical hazards like blood often give themselves away with a smell. If something smells off to you, odds are something is awry. Trust your nose.
- Frequent establishments with good food handling practices: Every restaurant in the U.S. is bound by federal and local food handling rules. Every restaurant and food cart must pass a yearly inspection with its city department of health and safety. By law, food establishments are required to clearly display or be able to produce documentation that they’ve passed their most recent health inspection. If you see concerning behavior such as food being handled without gloves, sick employees handling food, or cross-contamination, report it to a manager and ask about their most recent health inspection. If they can’t produce that information, do not eat at that establishment. This will help keep you safe.
Protecting Yourself at Home
In addition to using your eyes and nose, follow these tips to reduce your risk of consuming the three types of hazards that make food unsafe:
- Temperature control: Cooking or storing meat improperly is one of the easiest ways to introduce biological hazards into your food. Meat should be stored at no greater than 40 degrees Fahrenheit. Always use a food thermometer when cooking meat. This will keep you safe and help you cook delicious food. Poultry should be cooked to an internal temperature of 165 degrees Fahrenheit, ground meats like breakfast sausage and hamburger should be cooked to 160 degrees Fahrenheit, and fish should be cooked to 145 degrees Fahrenheit. For a full list of safe cooking temperatures, click on this link.
- Best-by dates: This is an easy one. Following best-by dates is a great way to minimize your risk of biological food hazards.
- Discard damaged food items: If you have food items with evidence of tampering, damaged packaging, or clear marks of animal infiltration, throw them away. This could indicate the presence of harmful substances in your food.
- Don’t store chemicals near your food: All household cleaning supplies should be stored below food items or not in the same space at all. This is the best way to avoid chemical contamination at home.
Illnesses You Can Get From Contaminated Food
There are many illnesses you can get from contaminated food. Some of the most common are Salmonella, E. coli, and norovirus. Hepatitis A, Listeria, and Campylobacter are also commonly contracted via contaminated food. For a list of symptoms, follow this link.
Importance of Food Safety
From food production to consumption, food safety is of the utmost importance. The risks associated with contaminated food are potentially deadly. Food allergies triggered by cross-contamination, deadly infections, and chronic conditions can all arise due to food contamination.
How Can You Tell If Your Food Contains These Types of Hazards?
Use your knowledge about food safety to keep yourself safe. Rely on your eyes, nose, and good food handling practices to avoid food hazards. Meanwhile, industrial operations rely on specially designed inspection equipment including metal detectors and x-ray systems.
What Should You Do When You Consume Contaminated Food?
Now that you have the know-how, you can keep yourself and others safe from the three types of hazards that make food unsafe. If you happen to consume contaminated food, seek medical attention. Ignoring foodborne illnesses could kill you. Consuming contaminated food often causes vomiting and diarrhea, quickly depleting your body’s life-giving fluids, so stay hydrated by drinking lots of water and electrolytes.