What is Food Safety? Food safety is the practice of preparing, handling, storing and serving food in a manner that is free of contaminants and hazards, and is safe for consumption.
Why is it important? Because it helps to prevent food borne illnesses.
What are foodborne illnesses? When I was little and I ate something that resulted in a stomach ache, I remember my mother telling that it was a stomach infection and she would give me the appropriate antibiotic medicines to rid my body of the infection. As a food safety professional, I now realize that the stomach infection was a foodborne illness. So essentially, a foodborne illness is an illness that can result from eating food that is spoilt or contaminated with bacteria, virus, chemicals or toxins. Food borne illneses are more than just a “stomach infection” as they can become serious heath issues and a huge cost to society.
It is important to have a basic understanding of the types of hazards that are present in the environment that can be introduced to food through various stages of production, both commercially and in a home setting. These hazards include:
- Biological – Bacteria, virus, fungi etc. These are ubiquitous in nature and several of them are important for the functioning of the human body and nature in general. However, given the right conditions, certain strains of these organisms can get to our food, grow in them, release toxins and make us ill.
- Chemical – These can be naturally occurring or can be process induced. Examples include pesticides residues, allergens, sanitizers etc. Chemical hazards can react with the body’s immune system or with other bodily functions and cause illness.
- Physical – These can be anything ranging from broken pieces of crockery, small bones/shells, hair, stones, nails, plastic film etc. Several of these can lead to choking or internal bleeding, and therefore it is important to be observant in a home setting as well as in a restaurant setting.
What do food safety professionals do?
Food safety professionals either work for a food manufacturing company, for the government, consult with food manufacteres etc. to ensure the quality and safety of food supply. This food supply includes agricultural and packaged products all the way from harvesting, to formulation, processing, packaging, labeling and distribution to the store shelves.
I practice what I preach. And yes, it drives my family crazy but that’s because it requires some knowledge, change and some extra due diligence. But I strongly believe that a few extra steps will help ensure the safety of the food we prepare and the health of our near and dear ones.