Types of Food Hazards and How to Prevent Them

Cross-contamination is a major food safety risk. Without safe food handling practices, storage procedures, personal hygiene, and cleaning, contaminants can get into the food you serve, causing foodborne illnesses or allergic reactions.

But what causes food contamination?

Learn more about what hazards can come into contact with food and cause it to become contaminated, and what are the best practices for preventing contamination.

Pathogenic Bacterial Contamination (aka Cross-Contamination)

When most people are talking about cross-contamination, they are talking about spreading pathogenic bacteria onto food that could make someone sick.

Best Practices

Be sure to clean and sanitize all equipment, utensils, and surfaces between tasks and after prepping raw food. Also, raw food separately from ready-to-eat products.

Chemical Contamination

Chemical contamination can occur if raw food are contaminated with chemicals. Contamination can also occur if cleaning chemicals are misused, not rinsed off properly, or used in the wrong concentration.


  • Rust from an opened metal tin in the refrigerator
  • Cleaning product coming into contact with food

Best Practice

All chemicals should be stored in a separate cupboard away from the food area. Never transfer chemicals to other non-marked containers. Another best practice it to follow the manufacturers instructions for using each chemical.

Physical Contamination

Physical contamination occurs when a foreign object falls onto or into food. No one wants to find a band-aid in their food, but physical contamination can also contain pathogenic bacteria that could cause a foodborne illness.


There are many physical hazards that could lead to contamination, but some examples include:

  • Hair
  • Glass
  • Bandages
  • String
  • Plastic
  • Bird droppings
  • Dead insects

Best Practice

Always unpack food in a separate area away from food prep areas to reduce the risk of physical contamination from the packaging.

Also, Bug Zappers should ideally be placed near external doors. They should not be located close to open food, as dead insects could drop on the foods and contaminate it.

Allergen Cross-Contact

Allergen cross-contact occurs when an allergen’s proteins come into contact with another food and mix. Unlike pathogenic bacteria, an allergen’s proteins cannot be cooked off, and even the smallest traces of could cause an allergic reaction.

Best Practices

Store common allergens separately from other foods and be sure to clean and sanitize surfaces and equipment. If an allergen accidentally comes in contact when preparing an allergen free meal, do not try picking it out and serve the meal. Remember, once the proteins come into contact with the dish, they cannot be cooked out and can still cause an allergic reaction.

Learn more about preventing contamination by taking our Food Handlers, Allergen Awareness, and Food Proctection Manager training.

How Proctors Are Getting People Their Food Protection Manager Certificates During the COVID-19 Pandemic

The COVID-19 pandemic forced many things to become virtual—including test taking. Remotely proctored food protection manager exams have now become extremely popular.

However, even with the pandemic still ongoing, in-person proctors have still found ways to safely get people their food manager certifications.

COVID-19 precautions are set in place, such as limited class sizes, spacing out students, wearing masks, and temperature checks.

The pandemic has made safety training, including food safety training, more relevant and important than ever. It has brought to light the importance of proper training in order to keep customers and workers safe.

Read more about how Always Food Safe proctor Linda Petterson is getting students their food protection manager certification during the pandemic.

Whether you want to take the food protection manager exam in-person or online, Always Food Safe will get you certified. Learn more about our Food Protection Manager training & certification.

Valentine's Day Food Safety: How to Avoid A Valentine's Day Disaster

Valentine’s Day is a holiday where many people chose to dine out. When it comes to dining out, there is always a risk of foodborne illness.

Foodborne illness is an effective way to ruin an otherwise perfect Valentine’s day evening.

Whether you are dining in or dining out, we are here to help you have a good Valentine’s Day—one that does not include contracting a foodborne illness.

Follow these tips to safely dine out or dine in this Valentine’s Day.

Dining Out

Properly vet the restaurant

Before making a reservation, be sure to properly vet the restaurant to make sure they are always food safe. Look at the reviews, which can include health inspection scores, as well as if they have some sort of proof that their staff is food safety trained.

And if the restaurant doesn’t look clean or you see any red flags, you can always leave and find somewhere else.

Skip the raw oysters

Raw oysters are a classic Valentine’s Day dish, but beware. Raw oysters could be contaminated with foodborne pathogens, leading to an unpleasant night for both of you. Consider skipping the raw oysters this Valentine’s Day.

Be sure food is fully cooked

When you food is served, make sure that it is hot and everything is thoroughly cooked through so that pathogenic bacteria are reduced to a safe level.

Get your leftovers in the fridge fast

Leaving food out for too long allows pathogenic bacteria to multiply to dangerous levels. It is recommended that you get your leftovers in the fridge within 2 hours of it being served. If you get a doggie bag, get it in the fridge as soon as you get home.

Dining In

Meal kits

This year, many restaurants are offering take home Valentine’s Day boxes, either already made or a meal kit for you to prepare yourself.

If the food is already made and ready to go, make sure any hot food is still hot when it is picked up or delivered, then consume as soon as possible to prevent the food from cooling down and entering the temperature danger zone, between 40°F - 140°F, where pathogenic bacteria can multiply to dangerous levels.

If you are responsible for preparing the meal, be sure to follow safe food handling practices when cooking it up.

Be sure meat is thoroughly cooked

Making steaks this Valentine’s Day? When cooking meat, make sure that it is cooked to its minimum recommended internal temperature, using a thermometer to check.

Don’t leave your meal sitting out

Once you are both done eating, don’t just leave the food sit out. Get the leftovers in the fridge as soon as you can, at least within 2 hours of when it was served.

How to Safely Serve Food at a Socially Distanced Outdoor Gathering

2020 and the COVID-19 pandemic has limited the amount of contact we have with those we care about.

The safest way to socialize is virtually, but a low-risk way to see people is at a small, socially distanced outdoor gathering.

There is no evidence that COVID-19 is spread through food, but congregating around food or sharing utensils poses a risk of passing along COVID. In order to safely serve food at a socially distance outdoor gathering, you need to avoid creating situations where people congregate or have to share a utensil in addition to your typical safe food handling practices.

If you are planning on hosting a socially distanced outdoor gathering, first of all, listen to your state and local COVID-19 regulations, and follow CDC guidelines and recommendations. Additionally, if you or anyone in your household is feeling ill or had an exposure to someone with COVID, cancel the event, and encourage your guests not to attend if they have symptoms or a possible exposure.

But if state and local regulations allow it, cases in your area are low, and no one from your household is sick or had a possible exposure, here are some tips for serving food in a way that encourages social distancing, as well as food safety tips to prevent spreading another sickness—foodborne illnesses.

CDC Resources

The best source for preventing the spread of COVID-19 is the CDC. Here are some resources from the CDC that can help your outdoor gathering be as safe as possible.

When You’re Not Eating, Wear A Mask

The most important thing to remember is that even though you’re outside, you should still be wearing your mask and staying 6 feet apart. You can still spread the virus while you are outdoors. Encourage your guests only to take their mask off while they are eating and to keep a 6 foot distance between each other.

Set Up Tables and Chairs to Allow Social Distancing

Don’t cluster tables and chairs together, forcing your guests to get close to one another. Set them up 6 feet apart and have one household sit per table.

Have Guests Bring Their Own Food and Drink

Having your guests bring their own food and beverages to your outdoor gathering will reduce the amount of contact between you and your guests.

Limit Food Prep and Serving to One or Two People

If you do decide to serve your guests food, limit food prep and serving to one or two people, to make sure there are not multiple people trying to prepare food in a condensed area.

Have one person serve the food so that your guests are not all handling the serving utensils.

Serve Single Serving Food

Don’t serve any food that encourages congregating. This means skipping the chips and dip. Food that is easy to serve in individual portions is best.

Grilling hamburgers or hot dogs, a classic outdoor activity, is a great option, among many other foods. Grilling food also keeps you outside, instead of having a bunch of people come through your kitchen.

Serve Condiments in Individual Portions

To avoid double dipping or passing around a bottle of ketchup, try and offer condiments in individual portions. Get creative. Use tiny jars, ramekins, or any other small container.

Other Safe Food Handling Practices

Here are the most important things to remember as you are preparing food for your guests.

Wash your hands

Before preparing food, it is important to wash your hands—and not just because of COVID! It will get rid of other germs as well that can cause the spread of foodborne illnesses.

In addition, consider providing hand sanitizer so that people can sanitize their hands when they see fit.

Check internal temperature

Meat and poultry need to be cooked to their recommended minimum internal cooking temperature in order to reduce the amount of pathogenic bacteria to a safe level. So, use a thermometer to check the internal temperature of meat before serving.

Store food at proper temperature

To prevent pathogenic bacteria from multiplying and reaching a dangerous level, keep hot foods hot (135°F or above) and cold foods cold (41 °F or below). Do not leave food out for more than 2 hours.

Are You Smarter Than a Fifth Grader: Food Safety Edition

There is a lot to learn about food safety, from killing off pathogenic bacteria to prevent spreading foodborne illnesses, to how to properly prepare an allergy-safe meal, and much more. However, when you get down to it, it’s really not that complicated or difficult.

Let’s see what these elementary school students know about these food safety topics.

How Do You Kill Bacteria?

What happens when bacteria gets too hot?

Heating up food kills off bacteria and reduces it to a safe level. That’s why it is important to heat TCS food to its recommended minimum internal cooking temperature.

What happens when bacteria gets too cold?

Keeping food cold slows the rate at which bacteria can multiply, keeping the amount of bacteria at a safe level until it’s time to use. Properly storing and refrigerating TCS food and keeping it out of the temperature danger zone (40°F - 140°F) will prevent pathogenic bacteria from multiplying and causing a foodborne illness.

When Does Food Go Bad?

These kids got it: if food is squishy, bruised, or moldy, THROW IT OUT!

If there is mold on food, can you just scrape it off?

No, you should not just scrape it off. If you see mold on anything, it’s time to throw the whole thing out.

What Do Health Inspectors Do?

Health inspectors check to make sure that everything is up to code and check for violations.

Are health inspectors our friends or the enemy?

If you’re doing what you’re supposed to be doing, they are your friends. But if you’re doing something unsafe, they might not be your friend. Regardless, it is important to take them seriously, as it is their job to make sure everyone is always food safe.


When at a self-serve buffet, do not use your bare hands. Use the tongs provided, and do not use the same one for different foods. This prevents cross-contamination as well as allergen cross-contact.

What should you do if you see this at a buffet?

If you see someone using their hands, mixing up the serving utensils, or sneezing on the food, you should alert the staff immediately so that someone can switch it out for fresh, safer food.

What are Food Allergies or Intolerance?

People can have a food allergy to any number of foods, although there are 8 common food allergens.

Food allergens can be hidden in food, accidentally added in, or have proteins prevent due to cross-contact.

What are the symptoms of an allergic reaction?

Symptoms of an allergic reaction to a food allergen 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)

These can range from minor to life-threatening.

Is gluten intolerance the same as a food allergy?

A wheat allergy is different than gluten intolerance or sensitivity. Similar to lactose intolerance, people with a gluten intolerance can eat gluten without life-threatening side effects, but it will cause them discomfort. Symptoms of a gluten sensitivity include brain fog, fatigue, gas, bloating, and headaches.

Also not a food allergy, there is also Celiac Disease. This is an autoimmune disease where ingesting gluten can cause damage to the small intestine, causing long-term health complications.

Lightening Round

What should you do if you saw a rodent?

Don’t call the police or the animal shelter—tell your manager so that they can call a pest control specialist.

How long should you wash your hands?

Wash your hands for 20 seconds, or as long as it takes you to sing the ABCs.

What does HACCP stand for?

This one is a tricky one. HACCP stands for Hazard Analysis Critical Control Point, which according to the FDA, is a management system in which food safety is addressed through the analysis and control of biological, chemical, and physical hazards during food production.

These kids are smart, but if you are handling food, you will need to learn more. To become smarter than a fifth grader when it comes to food safety, check out our food handler training.

Test Your Food Safety Knowledge: How Many Health Code Violations Can You Spot in this Video?

When it comes to putting food safety into practice, there is a lot think about. However, it’s important to pay attention and follow the correct food safety practices so you aren’t passing along a foodborne illness to your customers.

See how many health code violations the food handler does in this video.

This food handler in particular made many mistakes while preparing this meal, but here are the most essential safe food handling practices he should have implemented in order to safely prepare this dish.

Pest Control

Pests can get into food and spread pathogenic bacteria. On the first signs of rats or any other pests in your facility, tell your manager immediately so they can contact a pest control expert to eliminate them.

Don’t Leave TCS Foods Out

Don’t leave TCS foods (such as chicken) out for more than 2 hours to prevent temperature abuse. In the 3 hours this dish with chicken was left at room temperature in the temperature danger zone (between 40°F - 140°F), pathogenic bacteria had plenty of time to multiply to a dangerous level.

Cook TCS Foods To The Minimum Safe Internal Cooking Temperature

It is important to check the internal temperature of TCS foods with a thermometer to make sure it is at least to its recommended safe minimum internal cooking temperature.

Chicken, which is present in this dish, should be cooked to at least 165°F to ensure that the amount of pathogenic bacteria is reduced to a safe level before serving.

Wash Your Hands!

Wash your hands before handling food, after handling raw TCS foods, and after sneezing or coughing into your hands, just to name a few.

And in regards to the sneeze, if the food handler was feeling sick, he should have let his manager know, and possibly stayed home.

Want to learn more in depth about proper safe food handling procedures? Take our Food Handlers training course and get certified today.

Preventing Allergen Cross-Contact

32 million Americans have a food allergy, with 200,000 of those people requiring emergency medical care for an allergic reaction each year.

That’s why it is so important to ensure an allergen does not end up in a dish you are serving. One way allergens can end up in food is through cross-contact—when an allergen’s proteins come into contact with another food and mix. Even the smallest traces of an allergen could cause an allergic reaction.

Unlike pathogenic bacteria, cooking does not get rid of the allergen. Once an allergen comes into contact with the dish, the allergen’s proteins are in the dish. And if served to someone with that particular allergy, it could cause and allergic reaction. That is why knowing the proper procedures for handling allergens and preventing cross-contact is so crucial.

The following tips will help you prevent cross-contact and protect your customers.

Store Allergens Separately

Use a separate storage area for common food allergens. That way if anything spills or leaks, it does not contaminate other food and cause an allergic reaction somewhere down the road.

Clean and Sanitize Surfaces and Equipment

Knives, cutting boards, counters, utensils, and any equipment or surfaces that comes into contact with food need to be cleaned and sanitized before preparing an allergen-free meal. Allergen proteins can linger if not properly sanitized between each use.

Throw Out Dishes That Come into Contact with Allergens

Be cautious when preparing an allergen-free meal so an allergen does not touch it.

If an allergen comes into contact when preparing an allergen-free meal, do not try to pick it out and do not serve the dish. Once the allergen is in the dish, its proteins are present and serving it would put an allergy sufferer at risk of an allergic reaction. Remember, allergens cannot be cooked off, and even the smallest trace of an allergen could cause an allergic reaction. Discard the dish, then start over.

To learn more about preventing allergen cross-contact, check out our allergen awareness course.

Caring for Seniors Means Caring for Food: Advice on Food Safety for Caregivers

Preparing nutritious, delicious food for the seniors in your charge doesn’t have to be a difficult task. Even for those with allergies or specific dietary restrictions, follow a few simple steps to make sure the food you’re preparing is both safe and healthy:

1. Avoid allergens: What to look for

Symptoms of food allergies can range depending on the severity, but you could look for rashes around the mouth, swelling of the lips and tongue, or intestinal issues. More severe reactions can include anaphylactic shock, which is life-threatening and will need medical intervention.

Some of the most common food allergies include dairy, eggs, peanuts, shellfish, and soy, among others. To ensure you are providing the safest experience for your seniors, first, ask them if they have any known allergies. Even if they respond in the negative, it’s best to proceed with caution. Some allergies have been known to manifest in adulthood, perhaps as the result of a delayed sensitization period or a reaction with some other allergen, like pollen.

For seniors with food allergies, it’s important to take extra care in food preparation and storage. Instead of taking a chance on any of these serious side effects, follow a few quick tips. For one, always wash your hands between handling different kinds of foods. In addition, always cook allergen-free meals first (so potential allergens won’t be on your cooking surface), and use multiple cutting boards if possible. You should also strive to avoid cross-contamination and store ingredients properly — store allergenic ingredients in the same place in the kitchen, for example.

2. Try some healthy (allergen-free!) snack ideas

So what do you cook to ensure your seniors are getting the nutrients they need while at the same time avoiding illness or adverse reactions? Healthy snacks with few or no allergens are a great choice. Try to avoid foods that are high in sugar — instead, go for whole grains and whole vegetables.

Some delicious examples of healthy, allergen-free snacks can be high-protein energy balls, roasted chickpeas, avocado, or popcorn. These provide protein, good fats, and healthy carbs — not to mention, popcorn, at least, is a pretty low-calorie food.

Even seniors with a serious sweet tooth can have that desire sated with sweet treats like fruit salad, trail mix, and home-made popsicles. Get creative with these nutritious snack ideas, while keeping in mind that your senior may have dietary restrictions, and it’s easy to keep them healthy.

3. Watch how you cook!

Allergens aren’t the only trouble. As we get older, our immune systems decline. In addition, the liver and kidneys may not effectively get rid of bacteria as we get older, and the gastrointestinal tract holds on to food for a longer period of time, leading to more bacteria.

All of this means that it’s doubly important to take stock of how you’re cooking the meals provided to seniors. Food poisoning from undercooked meat, for example, can be much more severe for older citizens, so take care to fully cook chicken, beef, turkey, or whichever meat you are preparing to the minimum recommended internal temperature.

While you’re cooking, as we mentioned previously, make sure to wash your hands often after handling ingredients and before mixing. You should also sanitize every surface thoroughly and, when you’re done, store cooked food at the proper temperature (41 degrees Fahrenheit).

Bonus: Get certified!

By following these simple tips, you can keep your senior charges happy and healthy. But here’s an extra tip: Become a certified food manager. This certification and requisite training courses will prepare you for a job in the restaurant industry or in senior care. Contact Always Food Safe to become a certified food manager today.

Hear from an Industry Expert on The Importance of Food Safety

Why is there such an emphasis on food safety training?

That’s because when in the restaurant industry, food safety should be your primary concern. One simple mistake could put your customers at risk of contracting a foodborne illness or having an allergic reaction.

Don’t just take our word for it. Hear from a food safety expert who works in the restaurant industry talk about his experiences with food safety and the impacts it can make on your business if ignored.

The Expert

Ralph Iglesias is the Senior Director of Food Safety, Training, and Brand Compliance at Sizzler.

He shared with us insights into what a food safety expert does, what the industry looks like, as well as how he keeps up with ever-changing food safety regulations and how he implements them at his company.

Food Contamination

Cross-contamination and allergen cross-contact are easy, but dangerous, mistakes to make. However, they are also easy to prevent.

Ralph shares stories from his experience with contaminated food, showing why it’s important to continuously improve and reevaluate your food safety procedures.

Holding Food

Ralph shares how Sizzler constantly monitor their holding food in their salad bar—from tracking the temperatures to preventing cross-contamination.

Get a Quick Refresher with These Short Food Safety Recap Videos

There’s a lot to learn about food safety—meaning there’s a lot you have to remember in order to run a safe food establishment.

But even if you don’t have a lot of extra time, there are still ways to quickly review different food safety topics.

The following are short video recaps—under a minute long—to quickly give you a knowledge refresh so you can get back to keeping your kitchen safe.

Cooking Temperatures

Cooking food to their minimum recommended internal temperature can help reduce pathogenic bacteria to a safe level, so remembering what these are is crucial.

Cold Storage

When storing food in a cooler or freezer, proper food storage will help keep food from going bad or passing along a foodborne illness to your customers.

Sanitizers and Detergents

Knowing the difference between sanitizers and detergents will help you properly clean your kitchen and kill of pathogenic bacteria that could be lurking on surfaces or equipment.

Personal Hygiene

Are you following all of the best personal hygiene practices?

Vehicles of Contamination

Stop the spread of pathogenic bacteria to prevent contaminating the food you’re serving.

For a complete look at proper food safety procedures, check out our food handlers training course.