Every year, thousands of people suffer from foodborne illnesses because of poor food safety practices. Un the UK, there are approximately 2.4 million reported cases of foodborne illnesses annually, and the associated cost is estimated to be a staggering £9 billion a year.
This guide outlines why it’s essential to understand food safety hazards.
What is a food safety hazard?
There are four types of hazards that must be considered in a food handling environment:
This type of hazard involves the presence of harmful microorganisms, such as food poisoning bacteria (e.g. Salmonella, E.coli, Campylobacterer) or viruses, in food products. Consuming food contaminated with these microorganisms can lead to foodborne illnesses.
Chemical hazards refer to the presence of harmful substances in food that can come from various sources, including cleaning chemicals or pesticides. These chemicals can pose health risks if ingested and absorbed.
Physical food safety hazards are foreign objects or materials that can end up in food products. This can include items like grass fragments, pest-related contaminants (from insects, birds or rodents), hair, nails, metal bolts/nots, or other non-food items. Such contaminants can cause injuries or other health issues if consumed.
Allergenic hazards occur when a food product contains one of the 14 key allergens specified by UK labelling regulations. These 14 key allergens must be declared to customers. Failure to declare allergens can lead to severe allergic reactions in individuals with allergies to these substances.
Natasha’s Law, also known as the “Natasha Ednan-Laperouse (NEL) Law”, is food safety legislation that was introduced in response to the tragic incident involving a teenager named Natasha Ednan-Laperouse. Natasha suffered a severe allergic reaction and tragically died in 2016 after consuming a pre-packaged sandwich that did not have clear allergen labelling.
In October 2021, Natasha’s Law came into effect requiring businesses that prepare and package food on-site for sale to include a complete list of ingredients on the packaging and make sure allergenic ingredients are highlighted to make them easily identifiable to customers.
Our Food Allergy Awareness course enables food handlers to identify common allergens, understand best practices and legal requirements for safely food handling, recognise the signs and symptoms of food allergies, and understand the potential severity of allergic reactions.
How can you reduce the risk of cross-contamination?
Cross-contamination can pose a huge risk to customers. Cross-contamination occurs when ready-to-eat or cooked food becomes contaminated with harmful bacteria, either directly by contact with the food containing the bacteria or indirectly by the food coming into contact with surfaces, hands, equipment or clothing contaminated with bacteria.
Cross-contamination should be considered wherever raw foods such as raw meat and unwashed vegetables are handled and where ready-to-eat and cooked foods are also handled. Ready-to-eat foods must be handled and stored so they don’t become contaminated either directly or indirectly with food poisoning bacteria.
Cross-contamination can lead to food poisoning and people suffering from illnesses such as campylobacter, norovirus and salmonella.
Bacteria need food, warmth, moisture and time to grow. They will proliferate at temperatures between 8°C and 63°C. Temperature control of high-risk foods is therefore important throughout the food operation. The legal requirement for fridge temperature is 8˚C or below.
Food safety training equips food handlers with the knowledge required to ensure food is kept and reaches suitable temperatures, including during storage, cooking, cooling and hot holding.
The quality of food products and their microbiological safety will be compromised unless cleaning is diligently carried out and monitored effectively within all areas of the catering environment. Poor standards of cleaning may introduce sources of contamination.
There are three stages to the cleaning process – cleaning, disinfection and sterilisation:
- Cleaning removes visible dirt and grease through scrubbing.
- Disinfection is the process of killing or reducing the number of harmful microorganisms using chemical disinfectants.
- Sterilisation is the most rigorous stage which aims to eliminate all forms of microorganisms using chemicals or heat.
Humans carry bacteria so we must take precautions to prevent contamination from our bodies when handling food.
Proper personal hygiene practices including handwashing, wearing clean uniforms, and using personal protective equipment such as gloves and hairnets can minimise the risk of contaminating food with harmful microorganisms.
The Food Standards Agency provides strict personal hygiene guidance that applies to everyone who works in food handling areas.
If food is mishandled, bacteria and allergens can pass from one surface to another. Incidents of cross-contamination occur when food handlers do things such as using a chopping board to prepare raw meat and then use the same board to prepare vegetables, or storing raw meat in a way that allows juices to drip onto other food.
Allergens can also pass between food which can be extremely harmful to people allergic to those ingredients.
Read our expert guide to managing food safety – five high-risk foods.
Why is food safety important?
Ensuring that food is safe to eat is essential. Foodborne illnesses are extremely unpleasant and can lead to serious health consequences, hospitalisation and even fatalities.
Protect vulnerable people
Everyone is at risk from food poisoning, but some people are more likely to suffer a serious illness if they eat contaminated food. They include:
- Adults aged 65 and above.
- Children younger than five years old.
- People with weakened immune systems.
- Pregnant women.
Food safety training will highlight employees’ need to protect everyone from food poisoning, but particularly the most vulnerable groups.
Improve business efficiency
Employees trained in food safety can be more efficient. Teaching them how to avoid food safety hazards and handle and store food hygienically will ensure mistakes aren’t made, processes flow well, and customers are provided with a high level of service.
Reduce food waste
Poor food hygiene can lead to food going to waste. Training means employees will understand how to manage tasks such as achieving and then maintaining the correct temperatures for foods, understanding ‘best before’ and ‘use by’ dates and the proper storage procedures to use. This reduces the chances of food being thrown away, cutting waste and saving your business money.
Protecting your organisational reputation
Managing your organisational reputation is more important than ever in the modern world of social media reviews. Bad reviews due to poor hygiene can be hugely damaging.
The Food Standards Agency rate businesses on food hygiene in England, Wales and Northern Ireland, with Food Standards Scotland doing the same in Scotland. The ratings are public information, so a poor score could put customers off from doing business with you.
Training your employees will ensure high standards are maintained and customers know that your food is safe.
Promoting a more positive workplace
Employee training is one of the ways employers can create a positive working environment. Our food safety training course emphasises the importance of good practices and why food safety is essential. It ensures employees feel confident in their ability to do the job and prevents any bad feeling among teams.
Avoid closure, prosecution and fines
Organisations with poor food hygiene practices and allergen controls risk breaching food safety regulations. During an inspection by food safety authorities, an organisation can be shut down if it is considered a high safety risk. The organisation can face unlimited fines, while owners and managers may face prison sentences for gross breach of reasonable care.
In 2016, the Guardian reported that more than 100 companies were successfully prosecuted “with sentences including prison, suspended sentences, community service and fines of tens of thousands of pounds”.
Trained employees mean employers can feel more confident that food safety rules are being complied with and that their food safety management system is functioning.
Managing food safety hazards
Our online Food Safety Training course provides fundamental training for food handlers working in catering and other environments where food is prepared, cooked and handled.
Food safety training teaches employees how to understand food safety hazards, avoid cross-contamination and how to manage allergens.