An extensive, well-organised, and easy-to-use glossary of common Food Safety terms and definitions. You can use our list to help you navigate the complex world of Food Safety.
PLEASE NOTE: These terms and definitions may differ from the ones used in legislation, specifications, regulations, guidelines, and standards applicable to your food handling enterprise and/or country.
R638* – Refers to the definitions in Regulations R638 (Regulations Governing General Hygiene Requirements for Food Premises, the Transport of Food and Related Matters)
Acceptable Levels Definition
Acceptable levels mean the acceptable levels for a Food Safety hazard to be present in the end food product. Organisations must consider customer, statutory, and regulatory requirements when acceptable Food Safety hazard levels are specified.
One example is pesticide residue. It is not always possible to completely eliminate pesticide residue on certain food products, but the allowed level of pesticide residue is regulated and should not exceed these acceptable levels.
Acidity means the level of acid present in food. On the pH scale of 0-14, 7.0 is neutral, below 7.0 is acidic and above 7.0 is alkaline. Foodborne pathogens require a slightly acidic pH level of 4.6–7.5 to multiply, while they thrive in conditions with a pH level of 6.6–7.5.
Examples: Lemons are very acidic at a pH level of around 2.0 and don’t normally encourage the growth of foodborne pathogens. Cooked rice on the other hand has a pH level of 6.0 – 6.7. These are ideal pH levels for foodborne pathogens to thrive in.
See Food Additives
See Food Allergens.
Approved Suppliers Definition
Approved suppliers mean reputable and reliable suppliers whose products and services meet acceptable standards of food safety, legality, quality, authenticity, service and ethical trading.
Asymptomatic Carrier Definition
Asymptomatic carrier means a person or other organism that has become infected with a pathogen but shows no signs or symptoms of the disease.
Simply put backflow means water that is sucked or pushed in the wrong direction within a plumbing system. When backflow occurs it can draw contaminants into the plumbing system and make the potable water supply unsafe, especially if the water is used for drinking, washing and food preparation.
For example, water and waste from a drainage system can end up in the potable water system during backflow if proper backflow preventions are not in place.
Bacteria means microscopic, single-celled organisms.
Examples: Escherichia coli (E. coli), Salmonella, Campylobacter, and Listeria monocytogenes (L. monocytogenes) are some bacteria that can cause food spoilage and foodborne diseases.
Bacterial Growth Definition
Bacterial growth means an increase (multiplication) in the number of bacteria in a population.
Example of bacterial growth: Under ideal conditions, individual E. coli cells can double every 20 minutes. At this rate, it is possible for a single E. coli bacterium to multiply and reach a million E. coli bacteria within about 7 hours.
Best Available Method Definition (R638*)
“Best available method” means a method that is practicable and necessary for the protection of food against contamination or spoilage, having due regard to –
- local conditions and circumstances whether at or on food premises or elsewhere;
- the prevailing extent of established practice and the financial implications thereof.
Best-before Date (BBD) Definition
“Best-before date (BBD)” means the food is still safe to eat after the BBD date but it may not be at its “best”. Best-before dates are more about food quality, not food safety.
A classic example is bread. You will normally find a BBD on prepackaged bread. On the day of purchase, bread is always at its best, but we all know what happens after a couple of days. The texture and flavour (taste) of the bread change, but it is still safe to consume.
Also see: Use-by Date and Sell-by Date
Biological Contaminants Definition
See Biological Food Safety Hazards
Biological Food Safety Hazards Definition
Biological food safety hazards mean the presence of harmful organisms or substances produced by organisms, that can contaminate food and pose a threat to human health.
For example, bacteria, viruses, parasites, and fungi. Most foodborne diseases are caused by biological food safety hazards.
Butchery Equipment Definition (R638*)
Butchery equipment means the equipment normally used in connection with the processing of carcasses and meat. This includes, but is not limited to band saws, mincers, fillers, tenderizers and vacuum packing machines.
Calibration is the act of ensuring that a method or instrument used in measurement will produce accurate results.
Examples: Thermometers, thermostats and scales are 3 examples of instruments used in the food industry that requires regular calibration.
Certificate of Acceptability Definition (R638*)
Certificate of Acceptability (COA) means a certificate of acceptability referred to in Regulation 3 of Regulations R638.
Chemical Contaminants Definition
See Chemical Food Safety Hazards
Chemical Food Safety Hazards Definition
Chemical food safety hazards mean the presence of chemicals in food that are at levels harmful to humans. Contamination may happen via different routes, such as the environment (water, soil, and air); during food manufacturing processes and the addition of food additives.
Examples: The most common chemical hazards in the food industry include: mycotoxins, marine toxins, naturally occurring toxins, food additives, pesticides, cleaning chemicals, maintenance chemicals, chemicals produced during processing and environmental contaminants.
Clean or Cleaning Definition (R638*)
Clean or cleaning means free of any soil, food residues, impurities, dung, dirt, grease or any other contaminants.
A state of hygiene must be achieved during cleaning.
Container or Food Container Definition (R638*)
Container or food container means any container in which or with which food is manufactured, prepared, processed, stored, served, displayed, packed, wrapped, kept or transported and with which food is in direct contact.
Examples: Packaging materials (tin cans, glass bottles, vacuum pouches, etc.), mixers, bowls, blenders, etc. Basically, anything that can contain food before, during and after processing / handling / storage / transport.
Contaminants mean the presence of potentially harmful substances in food, including microorganisms.
Examples: Biological, chemical and physical food safety hazards.
Contaminate or Contamination Definition (R638*)
Contaminate or contamination means the effect exerted by a biological or chemical agent (excluding allergens used as ingredients), foreign matter, or other substances present in food so that the food –
- does not meet a standard or requirement determined by law;
- does not meet any other standards; or
- is unfit for human consumption.
Control Measures Definition
Control measures mean precautions taken to reduce the chance of a hazard occurring or reduce the risk to an acceptable level.
Example: Regular handwashing is a control measure to prevent or reduce the risk of food contamination by microorganisms.
Core Temperature Definition (R638*)
Core temperature means the temperature reading taken in the estimated centre of the food.
Corrective Action Definition
Corrective action means an action or actions taken to eliminate the cause of a nonconformity and prevent recurrence.
Example: A simple example of corrective action is to discard food that shows signs of spoilage.
Critical Control Point (CCP) Definition
A critical control point (CCP) means a point or step at which control can be applied so a hazard may be prevented, completely eliminated, or reduced to an acceptable level. In some cases, more than one CCP may be required to control a hazard.
Example: Say for example you bake and sell meat pies. The cooking temperatures of the pies can be considered a CCP. If you do not bake the pies at the minimum recommended temperatures, any harmful microorganisms that may be present in the pies will not be destroyed and may pose a risk to food safety.
Critical Limit Definition
Critical limit means the maximum and/or minimum value to which a biological, chemical or physical parameter must be controlled at a CCP to prevent, eliminate, or reduce to an acceptable level the occurrence of a food safety hazard. Critical limits must be specific and measurable.
The critical limit is usually a measure such as time, temperature, water activity, pH, weight, or other measures based on scientific literature and/or regulatory standards.
Example: Say for example the core temperature of beef should reach at least 63 ºC during cooking to ensure the destruction of non-sporulating pathogenic microorganisms. The critical limit for the temperature control in this example is 63 ºC and higher. A critical limit must never be breached otherwise food safety will be compromised.
Cross-contamination Definition (R638*)
Cross-contamination means the process by which any contaminants, allergens or bacteria are unintentionally transferred FROM food, substances, objects, or facilities TO OTHER food, substances, objects, or facilities, with a potential harmful effect.
Example: Using the same knife to cut raw and then cooked meat without cleaning the knife in between processes. Potential harmful bacteria on the raw meat are transferred to the knife, and the knife, in turn, contaminates the cooked meat. Cross-contamination took place from the raw meat to the cooked meat. In this case, the source of cross-contamination was the knife.
The hands of food handlers are also a significant source of cross-contamination if proper handwashing routines are not followed before, during and after food handling processes.
Danger Zone Definition
Decision Tree Definition
Effective or Effectiveness Definition
Effective means the extent to which planned activities are realised and planned results achieved.
Facility or Facilities Definition (R638*)
Facility means an apparatus, appliance, equipment, implement, storage space, working surface or object used in connection with the handling of food.
Examples: Utensils, handwashing basins, fridges, countertops, stoves, display units, etc.
First-in, First-out (FIFO) Definition
First-in, First-out (FIFO) means a method of stock rotation in which products must be stored based on their use-by or best-before dates, so the oldest products are used first.
Example: If you stock (pack) a shelf, you will put the products that expire soonest in front of the rest. If the products are used as an ingredient, you will do the same during storage. This makes it easier to use the ingredients that will expire soonest, first.
Flow Diagram Definition
Food Additives Definition
Food Additives mean food-grade additives approved by the Codex-Alimentarius and other statutory and regulatory requirements applicable to your food handling enterprise and products.
Examples: Food additives are substances (for example, Monosodium Glutamate (MSG), Artificial Food Coloring, Sodium Nitrite, High-Fructose Corn Syrup, etc.) added to food to extend its shelf life, preserve/enhance flavour, or enhance taste, appearance, or other sensory qualities. Food additives are also used to modify food so it does not need temperature and time control.
Food Adulteration Definition
Food adulteration means the adding of cheaper, inferior or less desirable materials or ingredients to a food product or removing a valuable ingredient from the product to, for example, extend shelf life.
Food adulteration can have a great negative impact on the consumer’s health. Irrespective of the type of adulteration, prolonged consumption of adulterated food is very harmful to our bodies.
- Diluting milk with water.
- Adding sugar, glucose or sugar syrup to honey.
- Mixing of inedible items like sand, clay, dust, pebbles, etc. with food items.
Food Allergens Definition
Food allergens are typically naturally-occurring proteins in foods or derivatives of them that cause abnormal immune responses in humans.
Examples of common food allergens: Milk, eggs, fish, Crustacean shellfish, tree nuts, peanuts, wheat, and soybeans.
Foodborne Disease (Illness) Definition
Foodborne disease (illness) means a general term often used to describe any disease or illness caused by consuming food or beverages contaminated with bacteria, viruses, parasites, or hazardous chemical substances. Foodborne illness can be caused by two main methods: foodborne infection or foodborne intoxication.
Examples: Campylobacteriosis caused by Campylobacter, Escherichia coli O157:H7 infection caused by E. coli O157, Listeriosis caused by Listeria monocytogenes, Salmonellosis caused by Salmonella, etc.
Foodborne Fungi Definition
Foodborne Fungi mean a group of microorganisms that includes moulds and yeasts. Fungi are an integral part of the natural environment and, therefore, play different roles in relation to food. Certain fungi are used in food production, others are food sources themselves, and some are agents of food spoilage. Fungi that cause food spoilage can also be harmful to human health.
Foodborne Infection Definition
Foodborne Infection is caused by consuming food or beverages that contain live bacteria or other foodborne pathogens. These pathogens cause illness if they multiply to unacceptable levels on food and the food is then consumed. Some pathogens can also multiply to unacceptable levels in the human gastrointestinal tract.
The severity of the infection depends on the virulence of the pathogens, the resistance of the victim and the number of cells that survive digestion.
Example: Norovirus infection causes gastroenteritis, which is an inflammation of the stomach and the small and large intestines.
Foodborne Intoxication or Food Poisoning Definition
Foodborne intoxication is primarily caused due to the presence of toxins in the food consumed. The food can be contaminated either by:
- Foodborne pathogens producing toxins.
- Naturally occurring toxins in food, for example, certain types of plants like mushrooms.
Some toxins have varying resistance to heat and can survive high temperatures which make cooking the food ineffective in “killing” the toxins.
Examples of foodborne toxins: While there is a multitude of such toxins in everyday foods, the most common include Staphylococcus aureus and Clostridium Botulinum.
Botulism is especially dangerous. Improperly home-canned, preserved, or fermented foods can provide the right conditions for spores to grow and make the botulinum toxin.
Foodborne Pathogens Definition
Foodborne pathogens means biological agents like bacteria, viruses and parasites that can cause a foodborne illness.
Examples: Norovirus, Salmonella, Clostridium perfringens, Campylobacter, Staphylococcus aureus (Staph), etc.
Food Contact Surfaces Definition
Food contact surfaces mean any surface with which food (especially unpackaged food) normally comes in contact.
Food contact surfaces also include those surfaces from which food may drain, drip or splashback onto surfaces normally in contact with food.
Examples of food contact surfaces:
- basins used for the washing and rinsing of food products
- packaging material
- surfaces in storage areas
- surfaces of food containers, etc.
Food Defence Definition
Food defence means protecting the foods you produce from intentional contamination or adulteration by biological, chemical, physical, or radiological agents introduced for the purpose of CAUSING HARM.
Examples: A classic example is a disgruntled food handler who intentionally contaminates food products.
Food Fraud Definition
Simply put Food fraud means the intentional adulteration of food for FINANCIAL GAIN.
Example: Diluting milk with water.
Food Handler Definition (R638*)
A food handler means a person who in the course of their normal daily work routine on food premises, directly handles or comes into contact with packaged or unpackaged food, food equipment and utensils, or food contact surfaces and is therefore expected to comply with food hygiene requirements.
Food Handling or “Handle” Definition (R638*)
Food handling includes the following actions:
Food Hygiene Definition (R638*)
Food hygiene means the processes that directly involve food, including storage, preparation, and cooking. Good food hygiene practices in these areas ensure that the food is always safe for human consumption.
Examples of food hygiene practices:
- Personal hygiene.
- Preventing cross-contamination.
- Cleaning procedures.
- Allergen control.
- Safe storage of food.
- Temperature control and measurement.
Food Labelling or Food Label Definition
Food labelling or a food label means a process of adding product information to food packaging. The food label helps consumers to identify the product and ingredients, as well as describes how to handle, prepare and costume the product safely. It’s an effective tool to protect the consumers’ health regarding food safety and nutrition.
Food Poisoning Definition
Food Premises Definition (R638*)
Food premises means a building, structure, stall or other similar structure, and includes a caravan, vehicle, stand or any place used for, or in connection with the handling of food.
Examples: Restaurants, food manufacturing plants, food trucks, home-based food businesses, etc.
Food Recall Definition
Food recall means the removal of an unsafe, adulterated or mislabeled food product from the entire food supply chain to protect consumers from a potentially harmful or unsafe food product.
Food recalls can happen for a multitude of reasons. Here are some examples:
- Undeclared allergens.
- The potential presence of foreign materials like plastic, metal, glass, etc. in food products.
- Unsafe or defective packaging material for example defects in canned food products.
- The presence of harmful microorganisms.
Food Safety Definition (R638*)
Food safety means the assurance that food will not cause harm to the consumer when it is prepared or eaten according to its intended use.
Food Safety Hazards Definition
Food safety hazards mean any contaminants with the potential to make food unsafe for human consumption and which may cause harm when consumed.
Food safety hazard types:
- Biological food safety hazards
- Physical food safety hazards
- Chemical food safety hazards
- Allergenic food safety hazards
Food Safety Management System (FSMS) Definition
Food Safety Management System (FSMS) means a systematic approach, including written procedures, to controlling food safety hazards within a food business in order to ensure that food is safe to eat, of the required quality and legally compliant.
Examples of some internationally recognised FSMS are ISO 22000, FSSC 22000, BRCGS, GlobalG.A.P. IFS, etc.
Food Traceability Definition
Food traceability means the ability to trace (follow) the movement of a food product and its ingredients through all steps in the food supply chain, both backward and forward. Traceability involves documenting and connecting the production, processing, and distribution chain of food products and ingredients. Food traceability places a crucial role during a food recall.
Example: Say for example it is discovered a food product is unsafe for human consumption after it was distributed and already in circulation. Traceability enables all relevant parties to trace the product and its ingredients back to the original source and hopefully the source of contamination and deal with it effectively.
See Foodborne Fungi
Good Manufacturing Practices (GMP) Definition (R638*)
Good Manufacturing Practices (GMP) means a method of manufacture or food handling or a procedure employed, taking into account the principles of hygiene, so that food cannot be contaminated or spoiled during the manufacturing process.
See Hazard Analysis Critical Control Points
Hair Restraints Definition
Hair restraints mean protective clothing that covers a food handler’s body hair to keep it away from food, thus preventing the body hair from contaminating the food.
Examples of hair restraints are hats, hair nets, beard nets and any other clothing that covers body hair.
Hands Definition (R638*)
Hands mean the hands, including the forearm or the part of the arm extending from the wrist to the elbow.
Handwashing Station Definition
A handwashing station means is a sink or basin meant ONLY for handwashing. Handwashing stations must be conveniently located in restrooms, food-preparation areas, service areas, and dishwashing areas.
IMPORTANT: Food handlers are not allowed to wash their hands using any facility other than a handwashing station and handwashing stations cannot be used to wash or clean anything other than hands.
For example, food handlers cannot use dishwashing basins for handwashing.
Hazard Analysis Critical Control Points (HACCP) Definition
Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Points (HACCP) means a systematic, documented and monitored system for the identification, evaluation and control of food safety hazards to prevent and/or reduce the risk of hazards in food products thus ensuring safer food for human consumption.
Health Hazard Definition (R638*)
Health hazard means a condition, act, or omission that may contaminate or spoil food so that consumption of the food is likely to be dangerous or detrimental to health.
High-risk Customers or Vulnerable Groups Definition
High-risk customers, also called vulnerable groups, means especially vulnerable sections of the population who are prone to getting foodborne infections because their immune system is either impaired or not fully developed yet.
The mnemonic for vulnerable groups is called the Y.O.P.I.:
Y – Young (children under the age of 5)
O – Old (the elderly)
P – Pregnant (pregnant women and unborn children)
I – Immunocompromised people
High-risk Food Definition
High-risk foods, also called potentially hazardous foods, mean food products that have ideal conditions to support the growth of harmful microorganisms.
Examples: Ready-to-eat meals, raw meats, raw poultry, seafood, dairy products, eggs (cooked or raw), etc. To only mention a few.
Hot-holding Equipment Definition
Hot-holding equipment means equipment designed to keep food hot at a certain required minimum core temperature or higher (for example, 60 ̊C or higher). The required temperature for hot-holding in your country can be different.
Examples of hot-holding equipment: Display warmers, steam tables, a bain marie, overhead warmers, etc.
Hygiene means the practice of keeping yourself and your surroundings clean, especially in order to prevent cross-contamination, illness and the spread of diseases.
Ice Paddle Definition
Ice paddle means a kitchen tool used to cool down hot food. Ice paddles are made from sturdy food-grade plastic which you can fill with regular water and put in the freezer for later use. The frozen ice paddle is submerged in the centre of the food for rapid cooling.
Example: Ice paddles are normally used to cool down soups, stews or other liquid-type foods.
Ice-water Bath Definition
Ice-water bath means a method of cooling food quickly.
Example: You put a container with hot food in another container or basin filled with water and ice or just ice to speed up the cooling process. It’s important to ensure the ice and/or water from the ice-water bath does not overflow into the food container.
Immunocompromised means having a weakened immune system. Immunocompromised people have a reduced ability to fight infections and other diseases.
Example: A weakened immune system can be caused by certain diseases or conditions, such as AIDS, diabetes, cancer, malnutrition, and certain genetic disorders. It can also be caused by certain medicines or treatments, such as radiation therapy, anticancer drugs or organ transplants.
Immune System Definition
Immune system means a body’s defence system against illness.
Example: People with weaker immune systems are considered high-risk customers or form part of the vulnerable group more susceptible to foodborne illnesses.
Infestation means the presence of any pest in sufficient numbers to pose an immediate or potential risk of contamination, loss or damage to food products, ingredients, packaging material or food contact surfaces.
Insecticides are pesticides specifically formulated to kill, harm or repel insects, as well as prevent them from spreading.
See Food Labelling
Microorganisms mean small life forms which cannot be seen with the naked eye but only by using a microscope.
Examples: Viruses, bacteria, protozoa, fungi and algae.
Minimum Internal Temperature Definition
Minimum internal temperature means the required minimum core temperature that food must reach to eliminate harmful microorganisms or hinder their growth. The minimum internal temperature of food products is specific to the food (for example red meat, poultry, etc) and certain conditions (for example, cooking, chilling, freezing, etc.)
For example, the minimum internal temperature requirement for hot-holding is 60 ̊C or higher. Please note the required temperature for hot-holding in your country can be different.
Mould means a type of fungus that breaks down food and causes food spoilage.
Examples of moulds often found on meat and poultry are Alternaria, Cladosporium, Fusarium, Geotrichum, Monilia, Manoscus, Neurospora, Penicillium, Thamnidium and many more. These moulds can also be found on many other foods.
Mycotoxin means any toxic substance produced by a fungus.
Examples of mycotoxins causing human and animal illness include aflatoxin, citrinin, fumonisins, ochratoxin A, patulin, trichothecenes, and many more.
Parasites mean organisms that live on or in a living host and get their food from or at the expense of their host.
Examples of parasites in relation to Food Safety: Giardia duodenalis, Cryptosporidium parvum, Cyclospora cayetanensis, Toxoplasma gondii, Trichinella spiralis, Taenia saginata (beef tapeworm), Taenia solium (pork tapeworm), etc.
Pathogens mean disease-causing organisms.
Examples: Pathogens can include bacteria, viruses, parasites and fungi.
Perishable Food Definition (R638)
Perishable food means foodstuff which on account of its composition, ingredients, moisture content or, pH value, and lack of preservatives and, suitable packaging, is susceptible to an uninhibited increase in microbes thereon or therein if the foodstuff is kept within the temperature spectrum of 5 °C to 60 °C, and includes the perishable foodstuffs listed in Government Notice No R.1183 of 1 June 1990, but excludes unprocessed fruit and vegetables.
Examples: Meat, milk, processed fruit and vegetables, fish, etc.
Person in Charge Definition (R638)
The person in charge in relation to food premises means a natural person responsible for the food premises or the owner of such food premises, as the case may be.
Personal Hygiene Definition
Personal hygiene means maintaining the cleanliness of one’s body and clothing to preserve overall health and well-being.
Examples of personal hygiene practices: Washing or bathing, regular handwashing especially after using the toilet, mouth hygiene, grooming, dressing and keeping clothing clean.
Pests in relation to the food industry mean any animal that spreads disease, causes destruction or is otherwise an annoyance.
Examples of pests normally associated with food premises are flying insects (flies, moths, gnats, etc.), crawling insects (cockroaches, ants, etc.), rodents, birds, and stored product pests (beetles, weevils, mites, etc.)
Pesticides mean any chemicals used to control pests.
Pesticide Residue Definition
Pesticide residue means any the pesticides that may remain on or in food after they are applied to food crops. The maximum allowable levels of these residues in foods are often stipulated by regulatory bodies in many countries.
pH Level Definition
Physical Food Safety Hazards Definition
Potable Water Definition (R638)
Potable water means water that is safe to drink or to use for food preparation. Regulation R638 defines water as potable water that complies with the specifications set out in Water for domestic supplies: SANS 241.
Prepacked Food Definition (R638)
Prepacked food refers to any food put into packaging before being placed on sale.
Prerequisite Program (PRP) Definition (R638)
Quality Assurance (QA) Definition
Ready-to-eat or Ready-to-consume Food (R638)
Ready-to-eat or ready-to-consume food means perishable food that may be consumed without undergoing a further process (for example, cooking) to make it consumable.
Record Sheet Definition
Risk measures the likelihood that a hazard will cause harm and how serious the problem could be if consumed by the end-user.
Risk Assessment Definition
Risk Matrix Definition
Safe Food Definition
Safe food means food that is not harmful or injurious when consumed, as well as food that does not cause a medical illness or pose a health hazard to the consumer.
Safe Temperatures Definition
Safe temperatures mean the temperatures food needs to be kept to prevent any pathogenic bacteria, which may be present in the food, from multiplying to dangerous levels.
Sell-by Date (SBD) Definition
Also see: Use-by date and Best-before date
Shelf Life Definition
Single-use Gloves Definition
Temperature Danger Zone Definition
Temperature Log Sheet Definition
Time-temperature Indicators (TTIs) Definition
Undercooked Meat Definition
Under Modification Definition
Unprocessed Food Definition (R638)
Unprocessed food means food that is not changed from its natural, raw state through any processing method.
Use-by Date (UBD) Definition
Also see: Sell-by date and Best-before date
UV Light Definition
Vacuum-packed Food Definition (R638)
Vehicle Definition (R638)
Vehicle means a –
- ship or,
and includes any other craft, vehicle, or conveyance used in the handling, storage, or transportation of food.
Viruses mean microscopic pathogens that multiply in the living cells of their host.
Waste Management Plan Definition
Waste Management Plan Definition
Water Activity Definition
Have we missed anything? Please let us know in the comment section below and we will gladly add it to our list. It’s always appreciated!