Are you new (or newish?) to food safety? Would you benefit from an introduction to terms commonly used to discuss food safety? Or maybe you're a more experienced food safety expert and would just like a quick review & reminder?
If so, you'll enjoy reviewing this article, as we've prepared a quick review of some basic and common food safety problems. We've drawn the material from a helpful resource created by the US FDA to help introduce good manufacturing practices (GMP and/or cGMP) titled "Definitions of Food Safety Problems."
And before you go, be sure to download our free 7 Basic Tools of Quality Guide from the bottom of this article.
The US FDA has listed the following as common food safety problems:
This is a layer of slime on the surface caused by bacteria. Biofilm creates an environment that allows pathogens to multiply, obviously leading to food safety concerns.
This occurs when humid air contacts cold pipes in a food processing plant. The resulting condensation can then drip from the pipes into the food product, causing contamination.
Using product from one product line in another product line (reworking) can cause food contamination.
This is a "catch-all" category of food safety problems caused when food is contaminated during processing OTHER than causes that already appear on this list (such as not having an adequate glass cleanup policy).
This includes both (1) cases in which the raw materials arrive at the facility already contaminated and (2) cases in which the contamination occurs at the food-processing plant. This is a catch-all category for contamination of raw materials not caused by other factors that already appear on this list (such as using unpotable water during processing).
Inadequate training of employees can led to a variety of food safety problems. Food processing plants must train new employees on the minimum training requirements:
In addition to that initial training of new hires, provide employees in food processing quarterly refresher courses and additional training if any operational deficiencies are noted.
Remember that food safety/GMP training must be delivered to employees in a language that the employees understand, that training programs must be updated every year, and that employers must keep records of training.
Equipment that's not clean leads to food safety problems. Some equipment is difficult to clean, either because of its own intrinsic design or because of the way it was installed at the food-processing plant. Either way, this is a common cause of food safety problems and should of course be avoided.
It's important to keep food ingredients and products at proper, cool temperatures during processing or storage or risk contamination. This is especially true of foods that are refrigerated or frozen.
Food processing plants must have a glass cleanup policy that includes:
If a food-processing plant does not have a glass cleanup policy, or if that glass cleanup policy is inadequate, food safety/contamination issues can result.
Products may in some cases (wrongly) be packaged in old packages or placed in the wrong packages. In other cases, a label may not identify the presence of an allergen when it should be labeled.
The lack of written procedures for how to manage a crisis at the facility, or poor training on how to carry out those procedures, can lead to food safety problems.
This could be considered part of the poor training category, and it includes employees who don't know how to keep equipment clean and employees who don't know how to prevent routine equipment maintenance tasks (such as lubrication of a machine) from causing food contamination.
After repair to equipment in a food processing plant, it's important to reconcile equipment parts to make sure they're all accounted for when the repair is complete. If a facility doesn't have a parts reconciliation written procedure, and/or if employees who perform maintenance aren't properly trained on the procedure, this can lead to food safety problems.
A food processing facility must have written standards on how to conduct welding safely, employees who perform welding must receive adequate training on those standards, and of course the welding must be carried out according to those procedures. Failure at any level can lead to food safety problems.
Not having a product recovery protocol, including no coding, traceability, or recall systems, can lead to food safety problems.
When a machine breaks down or performs improperly, that can be a cause of food safety problems. Therefore, it's better for a food processing plant to routinely perform preventive maintenance instead of simply reacting to maintenance problems.
See our article on preventive maintenance for more on this.
If employees at a food processing facility have poor hygiene, that can cause contamination in the food products. Be sure to properly train employees about the importance of proper hygiene; have written employee hygiene policies and procedures; and monitor/verify employee proper hygiene compliance to reduce this risk.
Pests, obviously, can cause food contamination issues. It's essential for a food processing facility to have a comprehensive and detailed pest management policy & program and to ensure it's carried out properly (be sure to document this).
Poor sanitation policies and procedures at a food processing plant can lead to contamination and food safety problems (this is obviously one potential cause of the "contamination of raw materials" catch-all category already mentioned). Poor sanitation may result from poor (or absent) sanitation policies, poor sanitation procedures, and/or poor monitoring and verification that those policies and procedures are being enacted.
Plant design and construction considerations can have a good or bad effect on food safety within a food processing facility, and some design and construction issues make food safety problems more likely. For example, floors with poor drainage and/or cross-over between the process flows of raw and finished products). It pays to have your food processing plant properly designed, built, and laid-out.
In some cases, a finished food product can be contaminated after it's been processed. This can occur between the lethality treatment and packaging or post-packaging. This may be caused by other categories that already appear on this list (such as poor pest control), but this category is a "catch-all" for other causes that affect food post-production as well.
Stagnant water in any area is a food hazard risk in a food processing facility. In particular, plumbing connections that don't drain into other areas and therefore result in sitting water may harbor contaminants that ultimately create food safety problems.
It's always important to use fresh, clean, sanitary, potable water for food processing. Failing to do so can obviously lead to food safety problems. At a minimum, be sure your water meets local health requirements (although that's a floor and it's certainly fine to exceed those requirements).
The FDA notes that the lack of programs for allergen control and chemical control were mentioned by food safety experts in identifying common food safety problems as well.
Avoiding the common food safety problems listed above will help your food processing plant greatly improve quality and avoid contamination issues.
To improve your food safety metrics, consider implementing (or improving) your quality management system, complying with the ISO 9001 Quality Management System standard, and/or the ISO 22000 Food Management Safety standard.