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Can physical hazard really cause harm to consumer?
A Food hazard can be defined as presence of undesirable matter in food which can cause negative effect on consuming it. There are three types of hazard in food industry: Physical, Chemical and Biological.
Physical hazard is any foreign matter in food stuff which can cause injury or illness to a person consuming the product. These could be anything like bits of bone, piece of metal, packaging material, insects, etc. A physical hazard can enter into the food at any stage of the food production. The sources for these contaminants are raw materials, poorly maintained facilities and equipments, untrained employees, poor production procedure. To eliminate these hazards it is important to implement HACCP along with the Pre-requisite programmes such as good manufacturing practice, good hygiene, etc. It is considered to be quality issue and not as safety.
A person consuming a food with physical hazard could be subjected to various risks. It can cause
- lacerations to mouth or throat.
- damage to teeth or gums.
- damage to stomach or intestine.
How do they enter into foods?
Physical hazards can enter into any stage of the production. Below are the listed out few examples.
- Metal: sources could be from machineries, hair, bits from knife, broken needles, and parts from vessels.
- Glass: sources can be broke bulbs, window panes, glass containers.
- Plastic: sources can be from packaging material, chopping boards, storage containers, gloves etc.
- Soil and stone: main sources can be from the field crops and also from the floors and ceiling of the factory.
Classification of physical hazards:
These are classified on their level of risks to the consumer. The Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) has categorized physical hazards into three:
- Category I
- Category II
- Category III
The category I expresses high risk, category II with a moderate risk and category III with the low risk of any cases due to physical hazard. The low risk zone expresses that there are good control measures in place but minor infractions occur. The moderate risk zone results in average control measures established and inconsistencies occur. The high risk results in due to little or no control and has major infractions occur. Every food has its own levels of risk and every food stuffs have to be monitored and made sure that appropriate control measures are in place to eliminate the hazard to an acceptable limit.
According to the Food and Drug Administration (FDA):
- Objects which are hard or sharp of size 7-25mm in length represent potential physical hazard in food.
- Natural hard or sharp components like shells can cause injury to consumers if they do not know that they are a natural food component.
- Natural hard and soft objects which are usually removed in foods but are 100% effective such as presence of bone in fish fillets.
Elimination of Physical hazards:
There are systems and methods to eliminate physical hazard to an acceptable limit. HACCP and pre requisite programme is very important and effective. But to focus on the point of entry of hazards would be more effective, which are raw materials, storage and specifications. Inspection of raw material and food ingredient for any contaminants Eg: stones in rice. Storage - Good storage practice and evaluation of potential risks in storage area Eg: Bulbs, insects, wooden pallets, etc. Could be prevented using bulb cover, prevention of insects. Specifications and control for all ingredients and components including raw materials and packaging materials. The specifications must comply with the rules. Eg: A limit of detection should be established to avoid false detection. Installing effective detection device and eliminating physical hazards. Eg: Metal detectors, filters etc). Periodic checking and upgrade of equipments in facilities to avoid source of physical hazards such as nuts and bolts from worn out equipments. Employment training on shipping, storing and handling of food materials will also help reducing physical hazards.
How can physical hazards be detected and eliminated?
There are different types of methods to detect physical hazards.
- Metal detectors will help in detecting metals in food stuffs. They can set up to products from the production line if metal is detected. It is also essential to check the detectors frequently to be accurate.
- X- Ray machines can also be used on food production lines to detect hazards such as stones, plastics, bones and metals, etc.
- Visual inspection could also help in a few cases of physical hazards.
Chicken manufacturing factory:
Let us consider process of raw breast chicken factory and the physical hazards involved. The process starts by getting the raw chicken from the primary producer. This is exercised by relying on supplier quality assurance (SQA) and this guarantee the supplier is meeting the specification of the buyer and the product is safe from hazards till the time of delivering it to the buyer. The chicken is cut; the skin is removed and cleaned. At this stage, physical hazards involved are pieces from the chopping board, chipped bits of knife, bones, feathers, etc. The hazards caused by these can be prevented by having good maintenance of the equipments along with proper training for the staffs. SSOP's (Sanitation Standard operating procedures) can help very much in cleaning of the machineries and equipments. This holds all records for cleaning routines in a daily basis and is signed off by a staff stating that the machine is free from any debris from the previous routine and is working up to its level. This is made mandatory in Meat and poultry operations from 1997 because of the product's lower threshold of getting spoilt. The chicken is then packed and stored below 4C. Packing itself has high probability for physical hazards to be introduced, for example the packaging material, the labels used etc. Packing material can be a hazard and hence visual inspection can be done to ensure the packing.
A detailed example for SSOP is given below to sanitize automated labelling machine. This is done on a daily basis and weekly once for cleaning the inside parts.
- Removal of all debris and physical matter.
- Wiped by a clean cloth dipped in soap water.
- A thin spray of QUATS (Ammonium compound) solution is applied and made to dry.
- Visual inspection is done to ensure that the machine is clean.
- If anything is broken it is always compulsory to call maintenance team to fix it.
Once a physical hazard has been detected, an effective program should be exercised immediately to eliminate these threats or bring it to an acceptable level. HACCP will help to bring down the risk to an acceptable level or clear out every physical hazard from the system. Auditing process would bring out the area of weakness in the production cycle. Make sure that the CCP's (Critical control point) are covered by the respective critical limits. All the process is to be written into a record for future use in case of emergencies. A regular auditing will help the production within safe limits and not leading to any disaster. More assistance can be obtained from consulting services, trained HACCP professionals, on-site training for workers etc. Therefore to prevent any risk of food incidents to consumers and from economic downfall, it is obvious to identify and understand the prone hazards. Make sure effective control measures are in place that would reduce or remove any hazards entry situation. A well developed HACCP plan will help solve most of the possible hazard situation and a well controlled quality control system will be of a good support. Taking up these steps would ensure that a food produced in a factory is safe from any possible physical hazards.
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