Chemical Hazards and Food Safety
There are many stages in food production where chemical hazards present a risk. But what is a chemical hazard? There are many approved chemicals used in food production and processing. However, when concentrations are too high, even approved chemicals may pose a threat. There are also chemicals that should never come in contact with food, such as lead.
To keep foods safe for consumption, it’s important to educate people who work in the food and agriculture industry about contaminants. The government is also responsible for deciding what is legally allowed in foods in America, but it is companies who are largely responsible for following these rules.
This requires ensuring participation in food safety goals at the individual employee level. Still, even the most well-meaning employees can cause accidents. Some may not even know these accidents have occurred.
What Is a Chemical Hazard in Food Safety?
Chemicals that may contaminate foods are usually divided into three main categories. These are naturally occurring chemicals, chemicals that unintentionally get into the finished product and chemicals that are intentionally used in the final product.
Naturally occurring food chemicals include mycotoxins and food allergens. Mold is the source of many types of mycotoxins, such as those found in tree nuts and peanuts. Chemicals that incidentally get into foods vary from pesticides and heavy metals to radiological chemical hazards. As for chemicals used in food production, additives most frequently come to mind, such as flavors, preservatives and colors.
What Is the Government Doing About Food Safety?
The Food and Drug Administration is the agency most involved in keeping American foods safe for human and even pet consumption. Though the FDA conducts routine tests on everything from candy to dog treats, their ability to act depends on a framework of laws.
In 2011, the government signed the Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA) into law. This gave the FDA additional power to act proactively and prevent rather than cure food safety problems. Within two years, the FDA had published their proposal that required company participation in keeping foods free of chemical hazards.
The proposal was known as the Current Good Manufacturing Practice and Hazard Analysis and Risk-Based Preventive Controls for Human Food. Its main proposal was a requirement to develop a written food safety plan. As the name of the proposal implied, the written plan should include preventative methods and a hazard analysis.
This document compelled companies to prepare for any foreseeable hazards that might pose a risk to food safety. In 2016, the proposal came into full effect as the Preventative Controls Rule. See below for the most notable inclusions:
- Recordkeeping of the below activities
- Preventative procedures
- Monitoring procedures
- Establishing procedures to correct problems
- Double-checking the effectiveness of procedures
Note that while these are the most commonly known provisions, some sectors of the food industry were already governed by food safety regulations. For example, since the early 2000s, a Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Point (HACCP) plan was a necessary requirement for processors of fruits and vegetables.
How Do Companies Prevent Chemical Hazards in Food?
When manufacturers, food processing facilities or other companies identify chemical hazards, what can they do to ensure foods do not become contaminated? Many people immediately point fingers at processing plants, but foods may become contaminated in their original and natural environments.
For example, tuna has heavy metals due to water pollution. While contamination in food processing can certainly make this worse, the original contamination first started at sea. Similarly, plant material may become contaminated with E. coli, herbicides and pesticides.
When river, recycled or gray water is used for irrigation purposes on farms, thirsty employees may also find themselves at risk. After all, these water sources may look perfectly clean when pumped through pipes. To prevent farm workers from drinking this water, proactive farmers rely on non-potable water warning signs.
Inside food processing and manufacturing plants, there are various stages of production where foods can become contaminated. These include storage, processing and even packaging. Using conveyor belts during these processes does help to minimize the risk, but it does not entirely eliminate it.
Once again, employees may also put themselves at risk by attempting to have lunch, snacks or even just water in restricted areas that could make them sick. Using No Food or Drink signs coupled with video cameras is how most companies handle this problem. Some companies also work with Clarion Safety Systems to further educate workers and raise awareness about food safety.
Finally, food may become contaminated during preparation, both at home and in restaurants. Did you know that only 31% of men and 65% of women wash their hands after using the restroom? Now you know why so many employers put that reminder on the bathroom mirror.
Is your company committed to food safety? Engage your employees in the process by using signs that encourage food and safety hygiene. This simple inclusion in factories, warehouses and other workspaces where contamination may occur keeps your employees and consumers safe. It also reduces the likelihood of a costly recall.
Clarion Safety Systems is dedicated to providing the highest quality food and safety hygiene signs for your facility. Contact us today or conveniently purchase from our library of products right online!