Food safety

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The responsibility of federal, state, and local food protection programs to ensure that food that is produced and delivered for consumption is safe, wholesome, and unadulterated. Food safety consists of all activities to protect the food supply from microbial, chemical, allergenic and physical hazards that may occur during all stages of food production and handling.

Glossary of food safety terms

  • Abattoir Any premises or facility where live animals are slaughtered or and any or all of the following take place meat is cut, wrapped, frozen, cured, smoked or aged.
  • Acceptable limit A point that separates satisfactory conditions from unsatisfactory conditions relative to food safety.
  • Accredited A facility that has been recognized by an authoritative body based on a set of requirements that is logical, fair, sensible and rational.
  • Adequately controlled A situation in which an identified hazard is eliminated or reduced to an acceptable level that meets requirements and is in line with what is logical, fair, sensible and rational.
  • Adulterated food Food that has been contaminated so that it is considered unfit and unsafe for human consumption.
  • Agent A substance or condition that exerts some effect on food safety.
  • Allergen clean Free of any residue that may lead to an allergic reaction in a sensitive consumer.
  • Allergens Substances that cause an exaggerated immune response in some people and that may result in a runny nose, watery and/or itchy eyes, a rash, wheezing, serious illness or (occasionally) death.
  • Allergen control program Food safety program to reduce, eliminate, or control allergen hazards within a foodproduction or processing facility.
  • Applicant An operator or facility that applies for certification or recognition.
  • Assessment The act of judging or documenting (often in measurable terms) the knowledge, skills, successes and policies a person or facility has relative to the Alberta HACCP Advantage Standard or another acceptable food safety system.
  • Audit Systematic organized and independent examination that may involve both paper reviews and on-site checking of a foodprocessing facility to determine whether the operation is following the rules of its food safety system. An audit looks for proof that you do what you say you do, and it is appropriate.
  • Bacteria Single-celled organisms that live in and around humans and other hosts, and that are too small to be seen with the naked eye.
  • Baseline A measurement, calculation, or location used as a starting point or condition against which to measure future changes.
  • Batch number A distinct identification code for each product or batch. It may be in the form of a distinctive combination of letters, numbers or both assigned to a specific identifiable batch/lot of production. It is usually found on each individual container.
  • Biological hazard Any danger to food safety by the contamination of food with illness or diseasecausing organisms.
  • Calibrate To adjust an instrument for accuracy relative to an established standard. The agency safeguards the food supply as well as the plants and animals upon which availability of safe and high-quality food depends.
  • Certification The status obtained after being successfully certified under a food safety certification audit. The facility receives certification once it has provided evidence to that its food safety system meets the specified requirements of the food safety standard.
  • Certification body An organization that is licensed to conduct audits and provide official recognition of compliance to certain standards.
  • Certificate of analysis Documentation that is based on a scientific examination and states that a food product has certain qualitative and/or quantitative properties.
  • Chemical sanitizing A method of sterilizing a surface using a chemical that has been approved by the Canadian Food Inspection Agency at a specified concentration and contact time.
  • Chemical hazard Any chemical that through contamination presents a danger to food safety.
  • Clean Free of soil particles and other foreign material (See also ‘Soil’).
  • Code A systematic collection of regulations and rules of procedure or conduct (e.g. General Principles of Food Hygiene or the Food Retail and Foodservices Code).
  • Codex An organization formed by the World Health Organization (WHO) and Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO). Comprised of representatives from 165 countries, it develops internationally accepted food safety standards.
  • Cold chain The process of maintaining proper refrigeration or freezer temperatures during transportation to prevent deterioration of food products or ingredients.
  • Communicable disease An illness that is caused by an organism, microorganisms or its toxins. It is transmitted directly or indirectly from an infected person or animal, or through the environment by water, air or other means.
  • Contamination A condition that can affect food that has been exposed to and faced introduction of foreign matter, including filth, a poisonous substance or pests, disease-causing microorganisms or parasites, or toxins.
  • Control measure Any action or activity that can be used to prevent, reduce or eliminate a food safety hazard.
  • Control point (CP) Any step at which biological, physical, allergenic or chemical factors can be dealt with through operational conditions to prevent food safety hazards and to support producing safe food that will not result in an unacceptable health risk.
  • Corrective action Procedures or activities to address a deviation, restore to normal conditions, and to prevent the deviation from happening again.
  • Corrosion Deterioration due to the chemical reaction of water, air or acid (A metal or alloy that is likely to be damaged or destroyed, especially by oxidation or chemical action, is ‘corrodible’).
  • Criterion A requirement on which a judgement or a decision can be made.
  • Critical control point (CCP) A point, process step, or a site where an action or procedure can be applied to prevent, eliminate or reduce a food safety hazard to and acceptable level.
  • Critical limit The maximum or minimum level to which an allergenic, biological, chemical or physical hazard has to be controlled to prevent, eliminate or reduce its occurrence to an acceptable level.
  • Crosscontamination A situation that occurs when micro-organisms, allergens, chemicals or other hazards that are carried by utensils, hands, towels or other food are transferred from one food, ingredient or surface to another.
  • Danger zone The temperature range that bacteria and spoilage organisms grow most quickly. The Danger Zone is between 4º C and 60º C.
  • Dairy processor Any person or firm that processes (for sale) 50 litres or more of milk or dairy product daily. It does not include retail outlets that operate or use a freezing device to freeze a frozen dairy product mixed or manufactured by a processor.
  • Deviation A variation from the standard or norm. In a food safety system, a failure of or departure from the standard operating procedures (SOP), is one example.
  • Disposition of product The final outcome or action taken in dealing with a particular food product. The action usually is associated with held, suspect or returned food products. Examples of disposition include disposal, reworking into future products or donation to charity.
  • Document To write down or record information. A file that contains information or accounts of food safety policies or activities (e.g. forms, records).
  • Documentation Permanent policies and work instructions that define systems, processes and procedures. The recording in a permanent format of information derived from food safety activities.
  • Documentation review A process that verifies an applicant has developed and provided all necessary documentation for the certification process to proceed.
  • Due diligence The degree of prudence that might be expected from a reasonable person, group or organization in the same circumstances.
  • Endospore A resting stage of some bacteria, during which the bacteria is resistant to unfavourable conditions. An endospore serves a purpose similar to the seed of a plant.
  • Eradication Steps/measures taken to totally eliminate a pest or weed from an area.
  • Establishment Any building or facility, including the surrounding areas that food is processed or handled.
  • Exit criteria The standards, measures or expectations used to evaluate a learning experience.
  • First in, first out policy(FIFO) An effective food rotation system in which the first lot of product received is used up before using lots received on later dates.
  • Flow diagram A systematic illustration or graphic of the sequence of steps or operations to produce or manufacture of a food item.
  • Food Any substance, including water and ice, manufactured, sold or intended for use in whole or in part as food or drink for human consumption. It does not include drugs, medication or health-related products regulated under the Pharmaceutical Profession Act or the Food and Drugs Act (Canada Public Health Act).
  • Food establishment A place, premises or vehicle where food intended for public consumption is sold, offered for sale, supplied, distributed, displayed, manufactured, prepared, preserved, processed, packaged, served, stored, transported or handled.
  • Food-grade packaging Any wrapping or container material that will not transfer noxious or toxic substances into food and has been approved by the Canadian Food Inspection Agency.
  • Food handler A person involved in any activity that relates to food processing, transportation or storage, or who works with a surface likely to come into contact with food.
  • food hygiene All measures necessary to guarantee the safety of food at all stages of the food chain.
  • Food Safety Plan The documented practices and procedures undertaken by a business or food establishment to protect food products, prevent contamination and to control microbial growth.
  • Food safety system A set of procedures or plans designed to ensure that food is protected and wholesome to eat. In food processing, a set of independent but interrelated control elements to ensure compliance with all legislated food safety regulations, the product protection plan or the HACCP plan used, or proposed by a food processor or applicant.
  • Foodborne illness Sickness or injury caused by eating food containing a microbiological, chemical or physical hazard(s).
  • Foreign material Any substance or object that does not naturally or normally belong in a food product.
  • Gap assessment audit (GAP audit) A systematic examination of a foodprocessing program (including the applicable management, production, training and related systems, as well as their records to identify any shortcomings in the program).
  • General principles of food hygiene (GPFH) A recommended international code of practice adopted by Codex Alimentarius Commission in 1969 and revised in 1997. This code consists of prerequisites and Control of Food Hazards, similar to the seven principles of HACCP used in development of HACCP plans. The GPFH code contains guidelines for application of both prerequisite programs and Control of Food Hazards Plans in a variety of situations from production through to the consumer.
  • Generic HACCP model Generalized HACCP plans designed for a specific product or product category that can be used as an example or guideline for developing a plant-specific HACCP plan.
  • Good agricultural practices (GAP’s) This refers to an integrated management system and the resulting ‘best-practices’ designed to ensure the efficient production of safe agricultural products.
  • Good Hygienic practices (GHP) The basic rules for the clean and healthy handling, storage, processing, distribution and final preparation of all food along the food production chain.
  • HACCP (pronounced ‘HAS-sip’) Acronym of ‘Hazard Analysis Critical Control Point’, a systematic approach used in food production as a risk-based means to ensure food safety. A system that identifies, evaluates and controls hazards that are significant for food safety.
  • HACCP plan A written document that is based upon the seven principles of HACCP and that defines the procedures to be followed. A HACCP plan includes an evaluation of a product that is being processed and then specifies procedures to address hazards through prerequisite programs, control points and critical control points.
  • HACCP reference standard A written standard that provides all of the details necessary to implement a food safety program based on HACCP. It is an effective means of assuring food safety.
  • HACCP system A HACCP system is a science-based and systematic strategy that identifies specific hazards and measures for their control to ensure food safety through control points or critical control points. The system includes prerequisite programs and HACCP plans.
  • Hand-washing station A means by which hot and cold running water are provided for the washing of hands. This station unit, which is directly connected to the facility’s sewer system, has in its immediate vicinity. A dispenser for the provision of soap or is otherwise equipped with soap in a container; and b. A method of hand drying that uses single service products or a mechanical hand dryer.
  • Hazard analysis Collecting and evaluating information on agents in or conditions of food with the potential to cause a significant adverse health effect or injury in consumers, and that must be addressed in the HACCP plan.
  • Hazard characterization The evaluation of the nature of the harmful effects associated with biological, chemical, allergenic and physical agents present in food.
  • Hazard Agents in or conditions of food that have the potential to cause an adverse health effect or injury in consumers. A biological, chemical, allergenic or physical agent that is reasonably likely to cause illness or injury in the absence of a control.
  • Hygiene Conditions and practices followed to maintain health including sanitation and personal cleanliness.
  • Immune response A bodily defence reaction that recognizes an invading substance (such as a virus, bacteria or allergen) and produces antibodies to counter the invader.
  • Immunodeficiency Impairment of the immune response that makes a person susceptible to infection and certain illnesses.
  • Implementation The process of putting into place program functions and activities.
  • Infective dose The amount of a pathogen that is required to make someone sick.
  • Integrated pest management A decision-making process to foresee and prevent pest activity and infestation. The built-in process combines several means to achieve long-term solutions including staff education, proper waste management, building repair, maintenance as well as biological and mechanical control methods.
  • ISO International Organization for Standardization, a worldwide federation of national standards bodies (ISO- member bodies). The work of preparing national standards is normally carried out through ISO technical committees. Members of technical committees can be international organizations, governments and non-government groups.
  • Label Any legend, word, ticket, tag, sign or mark attached to, included in, belonging to or accompanying any food or food package.
  • Letter of recognition A document awarded to a producer organization or processor following the successful completion of the ‘Recognition Audit Process.’
  • Lot number A distinct code for each product, batch or container. A distinctive combination of letters and/or numbers assigned to a specific identifiable batch of production.
  • Low-risk food Food that is unlikely to contain pathogenic micro-organisms and that (normally) will not support their growth due to the characteristics of the food (e.g. un-cooked grains and cereals, bread, carbonated beverages, sugar-based confectionary, alcohol).
  • Management commitment A pledge or promise by a senior individual within an organization to ensure that adequate resources are consistently provided to the food safety system.
  • Meat facility standards A regulatory standard for ‘Alberta Licensed Meat Facilities’ that is supported by the Meat Inspection Regulations. This standard includes eight programs seven based on FSEP prerequisites and one that details the ‘seven principles of HACCP.’
  • Medium-risk foods These foods may contain pathogenic microorganisms but will not normally support their growth due to the characteristics of the food. Usually they are acidic, dried or high in salt (more than 20%) or sugar (more than 50%).
  • Microbial hazard Microscopic organisms associated with foods that have the potential to cause an adverse health effect or injury to consumers.
  • Microbial Of or relating to micro-organisms, or to any life form too small to be seen with the naked eye.
  • Mock recall A process designed to assess the effectiveness of a food processor’s recall program and the readiness of the recall team. Mock recalls help to identify any gaps in traceability or problems that might have developed (e.g. new employees not following established protocols).
  • Mould A small multi-celled plant-like organism (classed a fungi) that generally reproduces by spore formation. These spores are very light and easily carried by air currents. They are also very resistant to drying and freezing, but are easily destroyed by heat.
  • Monitoring A planned sequence of observations or measurements to determine if Standard Operating Procedures (SOP’s) are being followed or if critical limits are being met.
  • Non-conformity Non-fulfilment of a requirement that is a stated, generally implied or an obligatory need or expectation.
  • On farm food safety (OFFS) Food safety programs developed to create the proper operating environment to minimize food safety risks on farms by implementing Good Agricultural Practices.
  • On-farm food safety program A systematic, HACCP-based approach to promote the production of safe products at the farm level by a set of production practices including control measures, a producer’s manual and a management manual.
  • On-site verification The process of checking that the food safety system in an establishment has been implemented as written. This requires an audit of the operating food safety system to confirm it is implemented as designed and that the system is effective in meeting the requirements as set out in the reference standard.
  • On-the-job training A teaching method that allows students or employees to gain practical (handson) experience while learning a trade or professional skill.
  • Operational separation The act of dividing or disconnecting processing activities by non-physical means to ensure that incompatible processing activities do not cause product contamination. Examples include separation by time, or by sanitation activities.
  • Operator A person controlling, causing to function or engaging in a food-processing business.
  • Overhead structure A piece of equipment or other entity that may be positioned over the employees’ normal work station or traffic area.
  • Package Anything that food is wholly or partly contained, placed or packed.
  • Packaged ice Potable frozen water that is sealed in a container or package and intended for human consumption.
  • Parasite An organism that lives in or on the living tissue of a host organism at the expense of that host.
  • Pathogenic microorganism Any bacteria, virus, mould or other form of life that is too small to be seen by the naked eye and that is capable of causing disease, illness or injury.
  • Perishable Any food product or ingredient that is susceptible to deterioration or loss of quality when subjected to temperature abuse.
  • Personal hygiene The combination of an individual’s practices and style that relates to cleanliness. For example, healthy habits that include bathing, wearing clean clothing and, most importantly, washing hands frequently before handling to insure food safety.
  • Pest Any animal or insect of public health importance, including, but not limited to birds, rodents, roaches, flies and larvae that may carry pathogens that can contaminate foods.
  • Pesticide A substance used to prevent, destroy or repel any insect, nematode, rodent, predatory animal, parasite, bacteria, fungus, weed or other form of plant or animal life.
  • pH Scale that the acidity and/or alkalinity of a food is measured. The lower the pH number, the more acid there is in the product. pH values range from 0 to 14.
  • Physical hazard Any danger to food safety by the contamination of food with any foreign materials that are not normally found in food.
  • Physical Separation The act of dividing or disconnecting processing activities by physical means to ensure that incompatible processing activities do not cause product contamination. Examples include walls, curtains and separate rooms.
  • Potable Any liquid suitable for drinking.
  • Potable water Water that is safe for human consumption and that meets provincial water-quality standards.
  • Potentially hazardous food Food capable of supporting the rapid and progressive growth of pathogenic microorganisms or the production of toxins. These products tend to have a pH greater than 4.6 and a water activity (aw) of 0.85 or more.
  • Premises All elements (interior and exterior) in the building and surrounding property including driveway(s), parking lot(s), drainage, sanitary facilities, waste management or other related structures.
  • Pre-packaged product Any product that is packaged in a container that will be normally sold to or used by a consumer without being re-packaged.
  • Prerequisite programs Procedures that must be established to manage the basic conditions throughout the food chain, and the activities and practices that must be performed in order to establish and maintain a hygienic environment.
  • Preventative system A management system consisting of a number of programs and procedures designed to control food safety hazards. When properly implemented, such a system ensures that products are handled and/or processed so as not to pose a risk to human health.
  • Proactive Acting before a situation becomes a crisis or emergency affecting food safety.
  • Product flow Sequential steps or procedures performed in the manufacturing of a processed food product.
  • Product protection Program or procedures documented and implemented to ensure critical factors to food safety are controlled.
  • Ready-toeat foods Foods that require no further preparation before consumption (e.g. chocolate bars, salami).
  • Recall Process of removing from sale food products that do not meet legally required safety or company standards.
  • Record Documented evidence that a specific action or procedure has been performed. The information that results from documenting an action or procedure.
  • Record control Procedures and policies to ensure that the right people have the right copy of the right document at the right time.
  • Record keeping A process of filling in forms to provide proof that policies are being followed or activities are being performed. It demonstrates that processes and procedures are being conducted properly.
  • Rework Manufactured products or processing materials that have failed a usability test and require the addition of labour or materials to avoid being scrapped. Generally used in connection with reincorporating the materials into the production of future finished products.
  • Risk The likelihood of an occurrence and the size of the consequences of an adverse event. A measure of the probability of harm and the severity of impact of a hazard.
  • Risk analysis A process that includes risk assessment, risk management and risk communication.
  • Risk assessment The process of identifying a hazard and characterizing the risk presented by that hazard in qualitative or quantitative terms.
  • Risk communication An open exchange of information and opinion leading to a better understanding of risk and risk-related decisions.
  • Risk management The process of identifying, evaluating, selecting and implementing alternatives for mitigating or lowering risk.
  • Sanitizing The application of some method or material to destroy all disease producing pathogens and other harmful organisms. Such treatment should result in a surface that is safe from a public health standpoint and that contributes to food protection and an extended shelf life.
  • Sanitation program Written procedures outlining cleaning and sanitizing steps and methods.
  • Segregation The separation of the two activities, products, or equipment to prevent likely crosscontamination or contact.
  • Sell To offer for sale, to expose for sale and/or to have in possession for sale and distribution.
  • Shelf life The period of time that a product can be stored under specified temperature conditions and remain suitable for use.
  • Shelf Stable Refers to foods that do not require refrigeration and that can be stored safely at room temperature without deterioration in quality within a specified time period.
  • Soil The material remaining on the surface of food equipment after processing.
  • Specification A detailed, exact statement of prescribed requirements for incoming materials or finished products.
  • Spoilage bacteria Bacteria that break down foods so that they look, taste, and smell bad. Spoilage bacteria primarily affect the quality of food but also may affect product safety.
  • Standard Operating Procedure (SOP) A written description of a particular task or procedure to ensure safe food handling. A set of instructions describing the activities necessary to complete a task that reduces the risk of foodborne illness.
  • Standard A set of rules or requirements established by authority, custom, or general consent as a model, example or point of reference.
  • Sterilize To completely eliminate microbial viability by approved means. To make free from all forms of life, including bacteria, usually using chemical or heat methods.
  • Supplier food safety assurance A situation established when a processor enters into a formal agreement with its suppliers to ensure they provide their products under a stated set of conditions.
  • Systems audit A procedure that verifies the applicant’s written food safety system contains all of the required components and that each component meets or exceeds the requirements in the reference standard.
  • Temperature abuse A situation that arises when food is not held at the proper temperature (e.g. keeping raw meat at room temperature for more than two hours before cooking).
  • Thermal sanitation Sanitation method using hot water or steam for a specified temperature and contact time.
  • Third-party audit A systematic examination by an outside person or firm to assess the effectiveness of the documented food safety system to determine if the requirements of the written program have been met.
  • Time/Temperature rule Rule stating that the growth of microorganisms in food is affected by the temperature that the food is held as well as by how long the food is at that temperature.
  • Traceability To check the history, application or location of a food item by means of recorded information by tracking a food item forwards or backwards through the food-supply chain.
  • Trace-back The ability to identify and trace the origin of problems when they occur.
  • Trace-forward The ability to identify and follow the sale and/ or use of an affected product and provide information to those customers affected.
  • Tracking Identifying the origin of an item or group of items through records back or forward through the food-supply chain.
  • Utensil Equipment that is used in the preparation, processing, service, storage and dispensing of food. It does not include tabletops, counter tops or similar working surfaces.
  • Validation The process of obtaining evidence that the elements of your HACCP plan are effective. Validation involves obtaining confirmation that the elements of the HACCP system, including critical control points are complete and effective in controlling biological, chemical, and physical and allergen hazards. This may include challenge studies, heat distribution and process validation studies.
  • Validation asks ‘Is this the right thing to do? And does it still work?’
  • Verification Verification is the use of methods, procedures, tests and other means to check whether the HACCP system is correctly in place and if it is being followed (e.g. checking to make sure the temperature has been reached). Although the validation and verification activities may be similar, results from verification activities are not intended to be used to make decisions on the acceptability of products. Instead, the verification results are used to check the adequacy of food safety controls or how well they are working.
  • Verification asks ‘Is what should be done, getting done?’ Virus Any simple sub-microscopic parasites of plants, animals and bacteria that often cause disease and essentially consist of a core of RNA or DNA surrounded by a protein coat. Since they are unable to reproduce without a host cell, viruses typically are not considered living organisms.
  • Waste management The collection, transport, processing or disposal of waste materials – including solid, liquid, gaseous or plasmic waste.
  • Water activity (aw) The amount of free water in food that is available to pathogens. Denoted by the symbol aw. Pure water has a water activity of 1.0.


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