Somali 2



In the first chapter, we briefly talked about the three main causes, (hazards associated with), of a foodborne illness; bacterial, chemical and physical contamination. In this chapter, we are going to concentrate on these three key areas. Understanding these threats will allow you to put the controls in place required to reduce the risks to a safe level.

We also mentioned that biological contamination is the most common cause and the greatest threat to food safety. We are going to spend most of this chapter talking about it.

You will learn about pathogenic bacteria, what it is, what it needs to live, and how it grows and multiplies. In addition, we will talk about some of its defensive weapons and how they can also be a serious threat to food safety.

From Chapter 3 on, we will look at the controls you can put in place.


Let’s start with bacteria. Bacteria are microbiological single-celled organisms, sometimes called microorganisms.

‘Micro’ means they are extremely small in size and cannot be seen without a microscope.

‘Biological’ means that just like humans, they are living organisms that also need food and water to survive.

They are also single-celled and cannot move without help. They need water, food, humans, or animals to move from one place to another.

Unwittingly or accidentally, we allow bacteria to spread, “move” from a contaminated source to safe food. This is called “Cross Contamination” and we will constantly talk about this throughout the course.

Please note: Not all bacteria cause disease and many are needed to promote health in your body as well as in the environment. This course concentrates on the ones that can cause you harm.

Pathogens, (Biological Hazards)
This is the term given to any microorganism, (we can’t see them without a microscope), that is a danger to food safety.

This includes pathogenic bacteria, viruses, parasites, and fungi, (which includes molds and yeast).

Simply put, pathogens cause foodborne illness.

Pathogenic Bacteria
We are going to start with pathogenic bacteria and cover the rest later in the chapter. The main reason is that this is the nasty bacteria that is responsible for causing the vast majority of foodborne illnesses. If allowed to grow to a high level, they can cause serious illness and even death.

We are going to spend a lot of time talking about Pathogenic Bacteria over the coming chapters. You will learn how to understand its likes and dislikes and how you can reduce the risks associated with Pathogenic Bacteria to an acceptable level.


SO, how do pathogenic bacteria grow to become such a danger to food safety?

Pathogenic Bacteria, given the right conditions, can double, (multiply), every 10 to 20 minutes.

This process is called Binary Fission. The single cell splits into 2. The 2 then become 4, then 4 become 8, and so on.

For example, A chicken breast, high in protein and moisture, left in a preparation area, at room temperature, provides the pathogenic bacteria with the perfect conditions to grow, (multiply).

This chicken breast may naturally contain 1000 pathogenic bacteria, (salmonella), per gram of food, At this type of level, the defense systems of a normal, healthy person will fight off the attack. Our stomach acids will be able to destroy the bacteria.

With their ability to double so quickly, “safe” food can become contaminated in a very short time span. If the chicken breast is left at room temperature for two hours, the bacteria will have multiplied to 64,000 and after three hours the bacteria will have multiplied to over 500,000 per gram of food!

At these types of levels, and in most cases, a normal, healthy person will not be able to defend against such an attack, and foodborne illness will occur!

In addition, if you serve anyone from the vulnerable groups we mentioned, just imagine how ill they could become!


Understanding what pathogenic bacteria needs to survive, and grow, (multiply,) means you can put measures in place to control food safety.

Pathogenic Bacteria basically need six elements to survive and multiply. They need Food, Acidity, Time, Temperature, Oxygen, and Moisture, (FAT TOMS).

If you take away or control one or more of these factors, you will keep food safe.

That point is worth repeating as it’s extremely important!

If you take away or control one or more of these factors, you will keep food safe.

Bacteria will still remain, but by controlling their environment they will be unable to grow, (multiply), to dangerous levels and threaten the safety of the food.

In addition, the two key weapons in your armory are temperature control and time control.

Storing food at the right temperatures, cooking food at the right temperatures, and limiting the amount of time food spends in the Temperature Danger Zone will eliminate the vast majority of bacteria-based, food safety issues.

You get this right and you are starting to take control of food safety in your operation!

FAT TOM 1 – Food

  • Pathogenic bacteria need food, (nutrients), to live. All foods suitable for humans are also liable to bacterial growth; however, pathogenic bacteria love any TCS Foods that are high in protein and moisture content.

FAT TOM 2 – Acidity

  • Acidity is measured on a pH scale of pH 0 (very strong acid) to pH 14 (very strong alkali), with pH 7 being neutral.
  • Pathogenic Bacteria prefer food of pH 6 to pH 8 and cannot grow below pH 4.5.
  • Pathogenic Bacteria will not grow in a strong acid such as Vinegar.

FAT TOM 3 – Time

  • Pathogenic Bacteria needs time to grow, (multiply).
  • If you reduce the time between storage – preparation – cook – service, you reduce the amount of pathogenic bacterial multiplication.
  • Time Control is one of your two key weapons. Reduce the time in the Temperature Danger Zone and you reduce the chance of pathogenic bacterial multiplication to a dangerous level.

FAT TOM 4 – Temperature

  • Temperature alongside time is your other key weapon.
  • Most pathogenic bacteria multiply at a temperature range between 41oF and 135oF.
  • This is known as the Temperature Danger Zone.
  • They love any temperature between 70°F and 125°F.
  • Bacteria will not grow at temperatures above 135°F and below 41°F multiplication slows dramatically.

FAT TOM 5 – Oxygen

  • Most bacteria need oxygen to multiply, however, there are some pathogenic bacteria that only need low levels of oxygen (or even no oxygen) to grow.
  • Clostridium, for example, needs an oxygen-free environment. Most canned products undergo a high-temperature cook once the food is within the can. This is known as a Botulinum Cook and involves heating the product to 250°F to kill the clostridium bacteria.
  • Vacuum packing also removes oxygen and provides an oxygen-free environment that slows down pathogenic bacterial multiplication. However, vacuum-packed foods, usually ready-to-eat foods, must be refrigerated and used within the date stated. Also, once opened, they must be treated as any normal food product.

FAT TOM 6 – Moisture (water)

Pathogenic bacteria need water (moisture) to survive. Bacteria find it difficult to grow in dried foods and naturally dry products.

  • The water content of a food is measured in Water Activity (aw).
  • Pure water is 1.00 aw.
  • Fresh meat is 0.98aw
  • Dried pasta is 0.60aw.
  • At anything below 0.80aw few bacteria can survive. Drying (dehydration) has been used as a preservation method for many years.


As you can see from FAT TOMS, pathogenic bacteria need certain conditions to survive or more importantly, to multiply to a dangerous level. We have mentioned both Time and Temperature as two of your key weapons. In simple terms reduce the time food is at room temperature and use heat, (temperature), to either control storage or as a cook, (kill) stage.

In this section, we want to talk about the Temperature Danger Zone as it is a very important temperature range that all staff must be aware of.

The Temperature Danger Zone is between 41°F and 135°F

If you keep food out of this Temperature Danger Zone (41°F and 135°F) or reduce the time food is in it, pathogenic bacteria will find it difficult to grow to sufficient numbers to cause a foodborne illness.

In addition, at temperatures above 135°F, most pathogenic bacteria are killed. (Some bacteria are able to form spores to protect themselves, and we will detail this later).

At temperatures below 41°F most pathogenic bacteria become dormant. This means alive but unable to grow, (multiply).

State & Local Variations

Throughout this course, we will talk about the Temperature Danger Zone, 41°F and 135°F. This is based on the FDA Food Code 2017. Please note that in some States they suggest a different temperature. Florida for example suggests 140°F.

Makes sure you check your local State requirements, however, for this course and the final exam you will need to remember 41°F to 135°F.

‘Preferred’ Temperatures of Bacteria

We are now going to get scientific and talk about the preferred temperatures for the different groups of bacteria. You don’t need to remember these names or temperatures; the information is just to demonstrate the ideal temperature conditions they need.

All pathogenic bacteria fall into the four groups detailed below:


Psychrophilic 23°F to 68°F 50°F
Psychrotrophs 32°F to 95°F 77°F
Mesophiles 50°F to 131°F 95°F
Thermophiles 104°F to 176°F

The most common pathogenic bacteria are Mesophiles and their optimum multiplication happens between 71.6°F (average kitchen temperature) and 98.6°F (human body temperature).

This makes them a very serious threat to any food that is left for example, on a preparation table, at room temperature. In addition, just think how hot your kitchen gets a peak service.

Mesophiles love to be left on a worktop for an hour or two! An important point to be aware of is that at 41°F or below, growth, (multiplication), is stopped.

Now we make no apology for constantly repeating the benefits of time and temperature as they really are your two key weapons. Used properly they are sufficient to limit the multiplication of pathogenic bacteria.

Best Practice

  • Correctly store food at the right temperature
  • Limit the amount of time in preparation or cooling
  • Cook food to the correct temperature for the right amount of time
  • Limit the amount of time between dish assembly and service to a customer
  • Use hot hold equipment if food is being served over a long period, and remember to regularly temperature check


The Big 6

We have talked a lot about pathogenic bacteria, how they multiply and the 6 FAT TOMS they need to survive. We have also talked about the temperatures they love.

Within this section, we are going to look at the BIG 6 Pathogens. As we say, know your enemy!

According to the Food and Drug Administration, (FDA), there are over 40 different types of bacteria, viruses, parasites, and molds that can cause a foodborne illness.

This course concentrates on what has been called, The Big Six, as they are identified as the most common source of foodborne illness, are considered highly contagious, and can cause severe illness.

In addition to the Big 6, we have also detailed some of the other dangerous bacteria and these along with the Big 6 are available as a download. We strongly recommend that you save the download and keep it as a handy reference document. It is also a great training aid for your staff.

As part of your role as a manager, you need to know these main threats to food safety. You need to understand the problems they can cause, and how you can deal with them.

For Example:

  • What is the main source of pathogenic bacteria?
  • What temperatures do they like?
  • Are they spore formers?
  • Do they release toxins?
  • Do they need oxygen to survive?
  • Do they need moisture?

Once you understand their characteristics, you can start to put in place controls to manage them.

The Big 6

We are going to split the Big 6 into their two main categories, detail the main characteristics of each pathogen, and detail steps to reduce the risks.


  • Nontyphoidal Salmonella (NTS)
  • Salmonella Typhi
  • Shigella spp.
  • Shiga toxin-producing E. coli (STEC)


  • Norovirus
  • Hepatitis A

As you can see, there are 4 pathogenic bacteria and 2 viruses that are responsible for the vast majority of foodborne illnesses.

Both groups have similar, yet also different prevention measures so we are going to start with pathogenic bacteria.

The Big Six – Pathogenic Bacteria

Nontyphoidal Salmonella (NTS)


  • Facultative anaerobic, (does not need oxygen to live), rod-shaped pathogenic bacteria (non-spore forming).
  • Salmonella remains one of the biggest causes of foodborne illness in the US.
  • Salmonella can survive for weeks outside the body. The infective dose is usually over 100,000+ bacteria per ounce of food and it needs to multiply to high numbers before it can cause illness.


  • Carried naturally in many farm animals.
  • Foods affected include raw food of animal origin including meat, sausages, poultry, eggs, egg products, and milk.
  • It can also affect vegetables if they have been in contact with animal feces.


  • Survives freezing temperatures but killed by heat above 131°F.
  • In low or moderate numbers, it is usually killed by the acid in the stomach.


  • Fever, headaches, abdominal pains, diarrhea, vomiting.
  • Affects all groups with reduced immunity. The young, old, pregnant, and ill.
  • Onset time: 12 – 72 hours
  • Duration: 1 – 7 days
  • Carrier Status: Can be carried in the human intestine


  • Separation of TCS foods and ready to eat foods
  • Correct thawing techniques
  • Cook all poultry foods above 165°F. Always cook eggs to 145°F or higher unless the customer requests.
  • Don’t use or serve unpasteurized milk, juice, or cider
  • Cook burgers and other ground beef products to their minimum internal temperatures
  • Wash fruits and vegetables thoroughly if to be eaten raw
  • Reputable suppliers that can prove the safety of the food supply chain
  • Effective cleaning and sanitization procedures to avoid cross-contamination
  • Exclude food handlers who are vomiting or experiencing diarrhea or have been diagnosed with a Salmonella based infection

Salmonella Typhi (Typhoid)


  • Typhoid is probably the most severe of all foodborne illness
  • It’s a common killer where there is poor sanitation
  • Typhoid is caused by the Salmonella Typhi bacteria
  • It only takes a small number of bacteria to make someone sick
  • People with typhoid fever will carry bacteria in their bloodstream and intestines


  • Originates from contact with the feces of infected people and animals (Note how many foodborne illnesses are connected with fecal matter).
  • Foods affected include water and milk contaminated by sewage, and shellfish from sewage-contaminated beds, also ready to eat foods and beverages


  • Any environment where food gets contaminated with feces or urine (or easy cross-contamination occurs)
  • Loves areas of flooding, particularly in warmer climates
  • Cannot survive boiling or cooking, but can survive in refrigerators and freezers
  • Multiples best at 98.6°F, (body temperature)


  • High temperature, fever, abdominal pain, vomiting, acute diarrhea, mental confusion, pink spots on the skin, a feeling of being increasingly unwell.
  • With treatment mortality rate is approximately 1-2%.
  • Without treatment, death occurs in approximately 1 in 3 incidences
  • Incubation Period (Onset Time): 7 – 21 days
  • Carrier Status: Yes


  • Ensuring all water is safe (potable) with no risk of contamination
  • Ensure no cross-contamination between sewage and clean water
  • High standards of personal hygiene
  • Effective cleaning and sanitization procedures to avoid cross-contamination
  • Effective sewage disposal
  • Exclude food handlers who have been diagnosed with a Salmonella Typhi based infection
  • Pay close attention to any staff that travel to Third World countries where typhoid is a common illness

Shigella spp.


  • This bacterial illness is sometimes called bacillary dysentery
  • This infection occurs when food workers who are carriers of the bacteria fail to wash their hands after using the toilet
  • Flies also are responsible as they can transmit the bacteria from feces to food


  • Humans. Bacteria are found in the feces of infected humans and can survive for weeks after the symptoms have ended


  • Any food that is regularly touched by hands, such as salads containing TCS Foods
  • TCS Foods, raw produce, green salads, and foods such as tuna, turkey, macaroni, and potato salad


  • Abdominal pain, diarrhea, bloody stools and fever
  • Incubation Period (Onset Time): 1 to 7 days


  • Proper handwashing techniques, especially after using the toilet
  • Rapidly cool foods to 41°F or below
  • Cook all foods to proper temperatures
  • Eliminate flies from your establishment

Shiga toxin-producing E. coli (STEC)


  • An aerobic, (needs oxygen), rod shaped pathogenic bacteria, (non-spore forming), that produce an enterotoxin, (toxin/poison)
  • Most strains of E. coli are harmless, but some can cause food poisoning including severe diarrhea in young babies and children. Sometimes called “traveler’s diarrhea.”
  • It only takes a small number of bacteria to make someone sick


  • Infected cattle and humans
  • Bacteria found in the feces of infected humans and can survive for weeks after the symptoms have ended


  • Raw meat, undercooked burgers, gravy, raw milk.


  • Diarrhea, vomiting, fever, abdominal pain.
  • Not serious for most healthy people, however, it can be fatal in groups such as young, ill, old, or people with a compromised immune system
  • Onset time: 12 – 24 hours
  • Duration: 1 – 5 days
  • Carrier Status: Naturally present in the human intestine


  • Approved suppliers
  • Separation of storage and work areas for raw and high-risk foods to prevent cross-contamination
  • Thorough cooking and temperature control of chilled ready-to-eat foods
  • Effective cleaning and sanitization procedures to avoid cross-contamination of work surfaces and contact areas
  • Good personal hygiene to prevent cross-contamination

Key Point

You will not be expected to remember every bacteria name, where it comes from, its preferences, etc. However, you will be expected to understand bacteria and how to put processes in place to control their growth.

The best way is to download the document we discussed and use it as a quick reference guide. (We have also listed many more of the main pathogenic bacteria that you may face).

While different bacteria come from different sources, some need to grow to a high level to cause a foodborne illness, others only need to be at a low number to infect someone. The main point you need to appreciate is that you have four main defenses.

Time – Temperature – Staff Personal Hygiene – Cleaning & Sanitization

We cannot over-stress the importance of these simple, yet key points.

  • Store food at the right temperature, reduce the time at preparation, (Temperature Danger Zone), cook the food to the right temperature for the right amount of time, serve immediately or hold at the correct temp for the correct amount of time.
  • Make sure staff have good personal hygiene, especially with hand washing, and watch out for anyone that tries to work while ill. As we said, look at how many foodborne illnesses are connected with fecal matter!
  • With regards to cleaning and sanitization, have strict processes in place to reduce the dangers of cross-contamination. Staff must fully understand this point and continued training and monitoring is key.

You will never, stop pathogenic bacterial from entering your operation, but you can prevent them from multiplying to a dangerous level.

A clean, well-run operation is a safe operation!


Before we move on from pathogenic bacteria, there are another couple of points we need to explain. We mentioned that some bacteria are spore-formers and other release a toxin, (a poison), let us explain in little more detail:


Some bacteria can resist an attack, (by hot or cold temperatures and chemicals) by forming a spore. This is a defense response by the bacteria and can be difficult to overcome. Spore-forming bacteria have a tough outer layer to their cell which allows the bacteria to remain dormant; protecting them from hot and cold temperatures, lack of oxygen, water, and nutrients.

The key point is that normal cooking temperatures will not kill spore-forming, pathogenic bacteria. They survive and multiply once conditions become favorable again.


In addition, certain bacteria also release toxins, (a poisonous chemical), as part of their living cycle, or when they die.

Toxins are highly dangerous and even in small amounts can be harmful to your body. Typically, with toxin-producing pathogenic bacteria, the foodborne illness comes from the toxins they release.

You may also hear the following terms:


  • Some pathogenic bacteria produce toxins while they are still alive.


  • Some pathogenic bacteria release the toxins as they are destroyed by cooking.


With any pathogenic bacteria that are spore formers or toxin producers, cooking alone will not make food safe!

The main control is to limit the time the food spends in the Temperature Danger Zone. Do not allow these bacteria the time to multiply before or after cooking.

Later on, we will also detail some of the other food products that naturally produce toxins.

The Big Six – Viruses


Hepatitis A

Unlike pathogenic bacteria, viruses are not living cells. They are DNA surrounded by a protein shell.

They are not living organisms like bacteria and they do not need food to multiply. The food or water only acts as a host and it is only after entering a human body that they can multiply. In addition, normal cooking temperatures will not kill a virus.

Norovirus is highly infectious and can spread rapidly. They can also be airborne, for example, someone coughing, sneezing, or vomiting.

Norovirus is believed to be responsible for over 58% of all reported foodborne illnesses in the US!



  • Norovirus is the most common type of viral gastroenteritis in the US, with its short-lived, aggressive diarrhea and projectile vomiting
  • It affects approximately twenty million people a year in the US!


  • Infected food handlers, ready to eat foods, contaminated water, raw shellfish from contaminated water
  • It is commonly spread person-to-person by fecal-oral, oral-oral, and by poor personal hygiene, poor handwashing, and bare hand contact


  • Spreads quickly among people in confined environments such as hospitals, prisons, schools, nursing homes, and cruise ships
  • It is also called the “cruise ship bug” and the “winter vomiting bug” as it usually peaks in winter when people tend to be indoors more often


  • Nausea, projectile vomiting, diarrhea, abdominal pain, moderate fever-like symptoms
  • Incubation Period (Onset Time): 1 – 2 days
  • Duration: 1 – 3 days
  • Carrier Status: Yes


  • Exclusion of infected food handlers who are vomiting or have diarrhea
  • Good hand-washing techniques
  • Strict personal hygiene standards
  • Avoid bare hand contact with ready to eat foods
  • High standards of personal hygiene
  • Approved suppliers for shellfish
  • Effective cleaning and sanitization

Hepatitis A


  • Hepatitis A is a viral liver infection, widespread across the world
  • In developing countries, and in regions with poor hygiene standards, the incidence of infection with this virus is high.
  • Many millions of people worldwide are estimated to become infected each year.


  • Infected food handlers, ready to eat foods, contaminated water, raw shellfish from contaminated water, sewage
  • It is commonly spread person-to-person by the fecal-oral route, poor handwashing, and bare hand contact


  • Prefers untreated water and sewage-contaminated water
  • Water filtering shellfish such as mussels and oysters


  • Fever, nausea, abdominal pain, jaundice
  • Symptoms usually clear up within two months, although occasionally last up to six months.
  • Older adults tend to have more severe symptoms. In most cases, the liver will make a full recovery.
  • Incubation Period (Onset Time): 10 – 50 days
  • Carrier Status: Yes


  • Exclusion of infected food handlers who have been diagnosed with Hepatitis A
  • Exclude food handlers who have had jaundice for seven days or less
  • Good hand-washing techniques
  • Strict personal hygiene standards
  • Avoid bare hand contact with ready to eat foods
  • High standards of personal hygiene
  • Approved suppliers for shellfish
  • Effective cleaning and sanitization





Many of these organisms can be transmitted by water, soil, or person-to-person contact. Occasionally in the U.S., but often in developing countries, a wide variety of parasites are transmitted in foods such as:

  • undercooked fish, crabs, and mollusks.
  • undercooked meat; raw aquatic plants such as watercress.
  • raw vegetables that have been contaminated by human or animal feces.
  • Some foods are also contaminated by food handlers who practice poor hygiene.


  • Approved suppliers
  • Correct cooking temperatures

For more info:

Naturally Occurring Toxins

Detailed below are some of the more well-known toxins and the controls needed.


  • This includes yeasts, molds and mushrooms.
  • Any food that shows signs of mold must be destroyed.
  • Certain mushrooms have naturally occurring toxins and some can be deadly. The mushroom “Deathcap” is a typical example. Unless you are an expert, recognizing safe or deadly mushrooms can be difficult. As a result, always use a reputable supplier.

Kidney Beans

  • A probably unknown, yet amazing fact is that more people in Italy die from the incorrect cooking of kidney beans than any other food poisoning issue!
  • Kidney beans contain a toxin called haemagglutinin.
  • Most food businesses tend to buy pre-cooked, canned kidney beans and this is typically the safest option. The toxin is destroyed by soaking correctly and then boiling the beans for at least 15 minutes.
  • There has been an increase in the sale of raw kidney beans and if this is your preferred route, you must follow the manufacturer’s instructions completely. That said, from a food safety perspective, pre-cooked kidney beans are the safest option.

Rhubarb leaves

  • Rhubarb leaves are increasingly used in plate decoration. However, the leaves contain a toxin that contains high levels of oxalic acid.
  • The stalks are perfectly safe to use as long as they are cooked properly, however, from a food safety perspective, we recommend that you avoid using the leaves as decoration.


  • You may at some stage have examined the potatoes in your storage area and seen some that have started to sprout or are green. Quite often you will remove the sprouts, ignore the color, and cooked them.
  • Potatoes that have sprouted produce a chemical called solanine. This can cause sickness, dizziness, and a burning sensation in the mouth.
  • As the manager, (PIC), you notice sprouting potatoes, make sure the staff know that they must be destroyed and the reasons why.

Poisonous Fish

  • Many fish can potentially be a threat to food safety.
  • Mackerel, snapper, barracudas, and sea bass can cause Ciguatera poisoning. This is a particularly nasty toxin, (poison), that can cause sickness, diarrhea, difficulty in breathing, anaphylactic shock, and even death. As with many other toxins, cooking does not kill the toxin.
  • Tuna, mackerel, herring, and marlin can cause Scombrotoxic poisoning. These fish have naturally high levels of histidine.
  • Poor storage conditions and time & temperature abuse can convert this to toxic histamine. Again, as with many other toxins, cooking alone will not kill the toxin.
  • Shellfish can also cause food safety problems. This final threat is called Paralytic shellfish poisoning which produces a neurotoxin. This can cause numbness of the mouth, neck, arms, legs, difficulty breathing, and even death.

Minimizing the Risks

At this stage, you may be thinking that you need to remove all fish and shellfish from your menu. Please don’t!!

As we have constantly mentioned throughout this course, the controls you need to put in place are simple and straightforward.

There are two controls you need to have in place:

  • Only buy from a well-known, reputable supplier who has a clear audit trail
  • It is also vitally important that you have a strict time and temperature control policy in place for fish and shellfish. Never leave fish or shellfish in the Temperature Danger Zone longer than needed.

You get these two controls right and you will reduce the risks significantly.


Thankfully rare, however, when chemical contamination does occur it can be very dangerous to the human body.

Symptoms can show in two different ways:

Immediate Symptoms

  • For example: if you accidentally drank bleach, the symptoms would show very quickly and include vomiting, diarrhea, and a burning sensation in the mouth, neck, chest, or abdomen.

Delayed Symptoms

  • These are arguably more damaging as the build-up of chemicals over a period of time, can potentially lead to joint pain, cancer, and damage to the nervous system. An example of this would be pesticides used in fruit and vegetables that have not been washed properly.


  • You need to ensure that staff is fully trained on the risks of chemical cross-contamination and proper cleaning procedures.
  • Ensure staff follow the manufacturer’s instructions on all chemical products, cleaners, etc.
  • Do not decant chemicals into other containers that have no instructions.
  • Store chemicals away from food preparation, storage, and service areas.
  • It is also a good idea to train staff on how to wash fruit, salads, and vegetables prior to use.
  • The use of reputable suppliers who can provide a clear audit trail.
  • Maintain proper SDS forms on site.

If you suspect someone has suffered from chemical contamination, call the emergency number for your area and ask for the Poison Control contact details


Metal Contamination

A foodborne illness from metal is extremely rare. However, you need to check kitchen utensils and pans for any chips or cracks. Also, watch out for old copper pans. If in doubt, or you see chipped pans, for example, remove them from the business. Throw them away.


Physical contamination is classed as any non-food object that is already in the food at delivery or could fall into the food at any stage within your operation.

Most physical contaminants pose no real threat to health, (low severity), however, more serious injuries can and do happen.

  • Physical contaminants include foreign bodies such as glass, nails, bandages, cigarette ash, dirt, bones, flaking paint from walls, cardboard, plastic, wood, rust, string, staples, or other metals.
  • They can also be naturally-occurring objects such as fish bones or chicken bones.
  • Also, pests are another common source, such as bird droppings, feathers, larvae/eggs, dead bodies.


Ensure food is always unpacked in a separate area away from food prep areas to reduce the risk of physical contamination from the packaging.

Also, Bug Zappers should not be located close to open food (dead insects could physically drop on the foods and contaminate them). Ideally, they should be placed near external doors.


This is where a person or group of people will deliberately try to contaminate food. In the main, most incidents are from disgruntled staff and former staff. However, we live in a changing world and there have been occasions where deliberate attacks are used to extort money from a business and we have the growing threat from activists and terrorists.

The FDA created a food defense program, (ALERT), to help operations look at these possibilities and identify areas of their operation that may be vulnerable.

Let’s run through their ALERT suggestions:

A = Assure

  • Use approved suppliers who also practice food defense
  • Are the delivery trucks locked between deliveries?
  • Have a member of staff available to inspect deliveries

L = Look<,/h4>

  • Can you lock storage areas?
  • Can you limit access to preparation and storage areas?
  • Have a system for safely handling damaged food products
  • Ensure chemicals are stored away from food areas in a locked storage area
  • Train staff to look for and report food threats

E = Employee

  • Conduct background checks on staff
  • Limit access to areas where they do not need to enter
  • Ensure any visitor is challenged and ask for ID
  • Make sure all staff understand that deliberate contamination is against the law and you will ALWAYS take action

R = Report

  • Keep all relevant information, for example, delivery notes, staff files, background checks, and inspections you may have done
  • Maybe set up, (or include in), a staff code of conduct and have all staff sign the document

T = Threat

  • Establish a process on what you should do if something happens
  • Create an emergency contact list including your local regulatory authorities
  • Report the threat immediately
  • Have a process for holding food you suspect has been contaminated


Even the best-run operations may encounter a foodborne illness outbreak. It happens!!

The key point is that you know how to respond to the outbreak and how to deal with your local Department of Health Inspector. Their confidence in how you have dealt with the outbreak will be very important and can dramatically affect how they deal with you and the operation.

Steps you need to take are:


  • Gather as much information as possible.
  • Detail the person’s name, address, contact details, nature of illness, symptoms, when they first became sick, and for how long.
  • What food do they believe caused the illness?
  • Had they eaten out of home in the days before or after? (The illness may not actually be from your operation)
  • The more details you gather, the better the chance of identifying the outbreak, and again this will increase a DOHI’s confidence.
  • Authorities

    • Contact your local regulatory authority immediately.


    • At this stage it may be difficult to determine which food product caused the outbreak, however, if you know or suspect, then it is good practice to identify and clearly label saying “Do Not Use” & “Do Not Destroy.” The authorities may want to remove the food to further investigate.
    • Make sure it is stored away from other food products and inform staff.

    Product Information

    • Detail as much information you can on the known or suspected product.
    • Include description, any use by dates, dates of production, temperature records for storage, cooking, or holding.
    • The more information you can provide, the more it demonstrates that you are managing your operation correctly. Prove to your DOHI that you understand food safety and are taking every reasonable precaution. Remember Due Diligence Defense.


    • If you can identify the food in question and who was involved in its production, you will be able to determine if they may have played a part in the outbreak.
    • Talk to them about the food in question. Check their knowledge of cooking temperatures, cross-contamination, and personal hygiene, for example.
    • Also, talk to them about their health status.
    • Remember, staff are the worst contaminators of food.

    DOHI Inspection

    • Work with the inspector, never argue or disagree. They are there to help you.
    • Their role is to protect public health, not close your operation down.
    • The more information you can willingly provide, the more you work with them, the more you demonstrate your knowledge of food safety, the more likely it that they will look to help you.
    • In many cases, it may be a simple breakdown of a process and they will advise you of the steps to rectify this and offer guidance on re-training.
    • To repeat our earlier comment, work with them!


    • What went wrong?
    • What steps do you need to put in place to minimize the risk going forward?
    • In many cases it may have been a sick staff member, wrong storage techniques, time and temperature abuse, poor food handling by an individual. It may be better monitoring of handwashing or stricter processes for cleaning and sanitization.
    • The key point is to understand what went wrong and then change/improve the process.



    In the last part of this chapter, we are going to talk about allergens.

    In the US, over 15 million people have a food-based allergy. That is a frightening statistic and the number of people with an allergy is growing!

    This is an increasing concern for our industry and as a manager, you need to understand the basic facts and how you can minimize the risks to a sufferer. You also have both a legal and moral responsibility to protect anyone who has an allergy. You get this part wrong and you could kill somebody.

    In many States, Allergen Awareness training is becoming a mandatory requirement at the manager level. If it is not yet law within your State, it is still highly recommended that you seek extra training to understand this growing issue.

    Help is at hand and many companies, including ourselves, now offer Allergen Awareness training courses.

    So, what exactly is a food allergy and how does it affect someone?

    A food allergy occurs when the body’s immune system, which normally works to protect the body, mistakenly attacks a food protein.

    The body sees certain food proteins as a threat and attempts to defend itself, sometimes with fatal consequences.

    For those who suffer from allergies, even the smallest amount of an allergenic substance can cause a reaction that ranges from a mild tingling sensation to anaphylactic shock and even death if not treated quickly.

    Since the causes of allergic reactions and food intolerance are still unknown, avoiding the offending food is currently the only way a sufferer can manage their condition.

    Symptoms of an Allergic Reaction

    The type of reaction and its severity will depend on the individual. In some cases, even a very small amount of an allergen, such as nuts, or even the dust particles from nuts can cause a severe adverse reaction including a potentially fatal anaphylactic shock.

    The time it takes between recognizing an attack and an emergency assistance response can quite simply be a matter of life and death.

    Typical Reactions can include:

    • Flushing/redness of the skin and hives
    • Abdominal pain, diarrhea, or constipation
    • Nausea and/or vomiting
    • A sudden fall in blood pressure causing weakness, dizziness, and even unconsciousness
    • Difficulty in swallowing or speaking due to the swelling of the throat and tongue
    • Difficulty breathing due to constricting of the airways
    • Severe asthma
    • Collapse & unconsciousness (anaphylactic shock)
    • Death

    Any person who says they have an allergy must be taken seriously.

    Hidden Allergens

    Hidden allergens are probably the biggest threat to safety and you MUST take care when developing a dish or using an ingredient in a finished product.

    Detailed below are some typical examples of hidden ingredients in commonly used products.

    • Fish (anchovies) in: Worcestershire Sauce, Special Fried Rice
    • Shellfish in: Special Fried Rice
    • Milk in Cheese, Potato Snacks, Yogurt, Butter, Cream
    • Nuts in: Indian Curry Pastes/Sauces, Thai Pastes/Sauces, Cooking Oils, Bread
    • Soy in: Cooking oil, Soy Sauce
    • Eggs in: Pastry, Pastry Glaze
    • Wheat in: Bread, Pastry, Pizza Bases, Pasta such as Lasagne sheets, Stock Cubes, and Worcestershire sauce.

    You may not want to change or remove the ingredient from your dish, but you need to understand which hidden allergens it contains and, more importantly, add this to your recipe list and make sure all staff is aware.

    Communication Methods

    Communication is vital in helping to prevent an allergenic reaction.

    Everybody in the business needs to understand why these procedures are in place and appreciate just how dangerous an allergenic reaction can be.

    A good idea is to hold team briefings. They are an ideal time to train, discuss menu and supplier changes and establish how to communicate allergy information to your customers.

    Another important point is to always make sure new staff and temporary staff understand what is required, as this can be a weak link in your operation.

    Encourage everyone to ask if they don’t know something.

    Establish a clear procedure on how front-of-house staff communicates with the kitchen staff when an allergy sufferer is eating in the business.

    Always remember: Communicate – Communicate – Communicate

    Suppliers & Storage

    Only use approved suppliers that you trust and who can provide detailed ingredient information.

    If your supplier delivers a product that is not your normal brand, carefully check the ingredients panel to make sure the product is suitable. Watch for hidden ingredients.

    With regards to storage, have clearly labeled, dedicated storage containers for named allergens with secure lids to avoid cross-contamination. Clear, strong plastic storage boxes are ideal.

    Store allergenic foods in a separate area of the storage room. If this is not possible due to the size of storage, place allergenic foods on the lower/bottom shelves to prevent spillage and cross-contact problems.

    Always use dedicated scoops to decant each allergenic product. Do not be tempted to use one scoop for several products.

    Food Preparation – Cook – Assembly of Dish

    At this stage of the process, the risk of cross-contact is at its highest.

    One moment’s lapse of concentration can have tragic consequences. A common and simple mistake when busy is to use the same stirring spoon, cross-contacting the dish in seconds!

    • We strongly recommend a set of separate items such as spoons, ladles, tongs, knives, pans, and oven trays.
    • These can be stored separately and used when a customer informs staff of an allergy. Make sure they are thoroughly cleaned afterwards and not used for other products when busy.
    • Also, a strict hand-washing policy must be observed before preparing allergen-free dishes.
    • All staff must be aware of this policy including front-of-house staff.

    Front of House Service

    Alongside preparation and cooking, “front of house” is probably the most dangerous area and where it can go terribly wrong.

    The three main danger points are Self Service, Menu Information, and Staff!

    Self Service

    Self-Service areas that allow the customer to serve themselves are an area of concern.

    Where customers serve themselves, separate serving utensils must be used for each food item to avoid cross-contact.

    Service spoons, forks, or tongs will carry allergens. It is essential that separate and clean serving utensils are always used for allergy sufferers.

    Menu Information

    The best option when creating your menus is to make them clear and easy to read for those with food allergies.

    Try to mention allergens in the menu description, for example, Strawberry Tart with Almonds.

    Add a statement to your menu. For example: “Before you order your food and drinks, please speak to a member of staff if you have a food allergy or food intolerance”.

    Front of House Staff

    If a customer has a question or request about allergens within a particular dish, staff must listen carefully to what the customer is telling them and write down the information.

    They must read the information back to the customer to check they have accurate instructions for the chef.

    Always encourage staff to be honest and ask if they don’t know. If for any example they cannot find the information required, again be honest and inform the customer. They will appreciate the honesty.


    Effective and thorough cleaning plays a vital part in reducing the risk of allergenic cross-contact.

    Staff needs to determine what, where, and how you clean before starting the prep.

    Think of the danger points:

    • Cooler/freezer handles
    • Preparation area
    • Food products already in use on the prep area, cooking area, and assembly area
    • Is it worth waiting a few minutes for service to pass before beginning cleaning?
    • Utensils, pots, pans, knives etc. that are needed
    • Plates, cutlery, glasses
    • What about your chef coat, apron, and hat? Are they clean?
    • Think of all the dangers and then remove them.