The 4 Primary Types of Food Safety Hazards Every Food Handler Should Know About

Everyone in a food handling environment, especially food handlers, should be aware of Food Safety hazards.

If you want to follow Food Safety legislation and keep your consumers safe, you must be able to identify the Food Safety hazards normally present in the food industry.

This will empower you to prevent, eliminate or reduce the risk of Food Safety incidents and in turn keep your customers safe when consuming your food.

Food Safety incidents are bad for business!

A Brief Overview of the 4 Main Types of Food Safety Hazards

Food Safety hazards are classified into 4 main types:

  • Biological Food Safety hazards
  • Physical Food Safety hazards
  • Chemical Food Safety hazards
  • Food allergens

Let’s have a brief look at each Food Safety hazard.

1. Biological Food Safety Hazards

Biological hazards are the number one Food Safety hazard that causes the most food-related incidents globally. Mostly, biological hazards are hard to spot with the naked eye, and you don’t even know they are contaminating food.

Biological Food Safety Hazards in the Food Industry
For Example Bacteria, Viruses, Parasites and Fungi

Four Main Types of Biological Food Safety Hazards

Biological Food Safety hazards can be classified into 4 main categories:

  1. Bacteria
  2. Viruses
  3. Fungi (moulds and yeasts)
  4. Parasites

2. Physical Hazards

Unlike biological, chemical and allergen hazards, physical Food Safety Hazards can usually be seen with the naked eye.

Physical Food Safety hazards are any large or small objects in food on which consumers can choke and which can cut or injure consumers.

Physical Food Safety Hazards in the Food Industry
For Example, Glass Pieces

Two Main Types of Physical Food Safety Hazards

  1. Unintentionally introduced –Physical Food Safety hazards often occur from outside sources. For example, glass piecesjewellerymetal pieces from chipped or worn utensils and equipment, etc. Under this group, you also find undesirable physical foreign materials, which may not cause a health hazard to consumers but might damage the food enterprise’s reputation. Examples: hair, nails, dirt, insects, etc.
  2. Naturally occurring – Physical Food Safety hazards can occur naturally in food products, for example, bones and seeds, pips, pits and stones found in fruit and vegetables, etc.

3. Chemical Food Safety Hazards

Chemical Food Safety hazards include any chemicals that might contaminate the food or make food unsafe for human consumption.

The first thing that might spring to mind is non-food-grade cleaning chemicals accidentally contaminating food. That is possible but not the only possibility.

It can include dangerous chemicals, toxins and the residue of excess chemicals used during the processing of food products.

Chemical food contamination is sometimes underestimated in the food industry. It doesn’t receive as much attention as the other Food Safety hazards.

There are many potential sources of chemical hazards in food processing.

Chemical Food Safety Hazards in the Food Industry
For Example Excessive Food Additives

Four Types of Chemical Food Safety Hazards

There are 4 main types of chemical Food Safety hazards to consider during food handling.

  1. Naturally present – These are toxins produced by animals, plants or microorganisms.
  2. Intentionally added – These are chemicals like food additives added to food, which is beyond the acceptable limits allowed by regulations.
  3. Unintentionally added – These are chemicals that accidentally contaminate food, for example, cleaning and maintenance chemicals, pesticides or environmental pollutants.
  4. Allergens – Food allergens are also considered a type of chemical hazard, but due to the significant role it plays in the food industry today, it is classified as a Food Safety hazard category on their own. (See below).

4. Food Allergens

Food allergen hazards are not as common as biological Food Safety hazards but are most probably considered the deadliest of all Food Safety hazards. It’s for this reason food allergens moved from the chemical Food Safety hazard list to a category of their own.

For example, peanut allergies are one of the most common causes of severe allergy attacks. In some cases, even tiny amounts of peanuts can cause a serious and even fatal reaction within minutes in people with peanut allergies.

People that have allergic reactions from consuming certain types of food can have mild to severe symptoms.

Allergenic reactions in people occur when the body produces an abnormal immune response to specific proteins found in certain types of food.

The declaration of food allergens in food products is well regulated in the food industry. Food allergen labelling laws are applicable in most countries. These labelling laws can differ from country to country.

It’s important to determine which food allergens must be declared on food products in your country.

Food Allergen Hazards
For Example, Peanuts, Tree nuts, Wheat, Eggs, Milk, Soybeans, Fish, Seafood and Shellfish.

Examples of the 8 Most Common Food Allergen Sources

  • Peanuts
  • Tree nuts
  • Seafood and Shellfish
  • Fish
  • Soybeans
  • Wheat
  • Eggs
  • Milk

How to Prevent the Risk of Food Safety Hazards

You can reduce and/or prevent the risk of Food Safety hazards by following a few basic Food Safety rules and using some common sense.

Ultimately you want to avoid the contamination and cross-contamination of food.

Know the food products you’re handling and understand the risks of contamination.

How to Prevent the Risk of Food Safety Hazards
Regular handwashing can prevent cross-contamination of food products.

Following good hygiene practices which include food hygiene, personal hygiene and proper cleaning, is your first line of defence in preventing Food Safety hazards.

Understand the temperature control and storage requirements of your food products. Incorrect temperature control and storage can encourage the growth of harmful bacteria.

Follow your company’s Food Safety policies and procedures to the T. It’s important!

Know the food laws applicable to your food handling establishment.

Communication is key! Discuss any issues or unclarities with your manager or supervisor.


Food Safety hazards are a real and constant threat to the food industry and food handling enterprises.

It’s important for everyone, especially food handlers to know and understand these Food Safety hazards.

Biological Food Safety hazards are the most common cause of foodborne illnesses in the world.

Physical Food Safety hazards are choking hazards and can even cause internal damage when consumed.

Chemical Food Safety hazards are more common than you might think. It can pose a real health risk depending on the chemical and excess of the chemical contaminating the food product.

Food allergens can be deadly for some people. Ensure your consumer knows what allergens your food contain. Follow good hygiene and storage practices to avoid foods containing allergens contaminating other food products.

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