How to identify chemical hazards in food

One of the requirements of completing your hazard analysis is for you to identify chemical food hazards. This is in addition to microbiological, physical and economically motivated hazards. In this post find out about the different types of chemical hazards that you should include in your HACCP food safety plan.

What are chemical food hazards?

A chemical food hazard as defined by the FDA regulation on cGMP, Hazard Analysis, and Risk Based Preventive Controls for Human Food, is any chemical agent “that has the potential to cause illness or injury”.  Food chemical hazards can be classified into any one of the following three groups:

(1) Chemicals that occur naturally
(2) Chemicals that you may use in the formulation of your finished product
(3) Chemicals that are unintentionally or incidentally present in your finished product.

Let’s have a look at each of these different types of chemical food hazards and how you can assess them within your food business.

Naturally occurring food chemicals

Chemicals that occur naturally within your business can include things like food allergens and mycotoxins. Food allergens would be normally assessed as a separate category within your hazard analysis but can also be included into the overall chemical food hazard category.  Mycotoxins are produced by certain types of moulds. You may have heard of the most common one – Aflatoxins which are associated with peanuts, maize, tree nuts and certain spices.

Chemicals used in your food product formulation

Chemicals used in your food product formulation can be things like food additives, preservatives, colours, flavours or any other type of chemical that you add to your product as part of the finished product formulation. An issue can occur if you add in too much or not enough of that food chemical and that affects the safety of your finished product.

If you’re adding a preservative to say, stop microbial growth if you don’t add the right quantity, this may not serve the purpose of which it was intended. If you add too much you can then cause reactions in people who are sensitive to those food chemicals.

Unintentional or incidentally present food chemicals

The final group is unintentional or incidentally present chemicals. These are things like chemicals that come from cross-contamination from the cleaning process. There may be residues left after the cleaning or sanitizing process. It may also include pesticides, industrial chemicals, heavy metals found in produce growing soils or drug residues in animal products.

Your business also needs to consider radiological chemical hazards especially after the 2011 Fukushima nuclear incident that occurred in Japan post-earthquake and tsunami. To read more about radionuclides in food please click here.

Economically motivated hazards due to a chemical contaminate

Before finishing up this post, I wanted to touch on a chemical-based economically motivated hazard. One of the and most famous cases of an economically motivated hazard would have to be Melamine contamination in infant formula. This occurred in 2008 in China where the express aim was to increase the overall protein concentration. You can read more about this here.

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