What is a chemical hazard?
The FDA and the USDA have recognized the wide variety of chemicals used in food processing and have decided what chemicals are acceptable additives in food products and which chemical substances are strictly forbidden. These agencies have also determined acceptable levels of other chemical substances. Chemical hazards affect more people than physical hazards, but typically not as many as a biological hazard. Obviously, some chemicals are of greater concern than others.
Chemicals are divided into two primary categories: prohibited substances and unavoidable poisonous or deleterious substances. Each company should make certain that none of the prohibited substances are present in ingredients or supplies. Unavoidable poisonous or deleterious substances have FDA tolerance levels or action levels, in the event that exposure or introduction is unavoidable. Products that fall into these categories include pesticides, herbicides, growth hormones and antibiotics, additives and processing aids, lubricants, paints, cleaners and sanitizers. There are a number of manuals available which contain a laundry list of other items that could contaminate. The FD&C Act regulates all of the above except pesticides. Those products without tolerance levels must not be present in any amount.
Chemical hazards should be addressed in steps in the production process: storage, during use (cleaning agents, sanitizers), prior to receipt (in ingredients and packaging materials), upon receipt of materials, during processing and prior to shipment of product.
Chemicals which should be considered include color additives, direct food additives, indirect food additives, prior-sanctioned substances, pesticide chemicals and substances generally recognized as safe. All chemicals used in and around manufactured product should have specifications developed, as well as a letter of guarantee from the manufacturer.
How can chemical hazards be controlled?
Perhaps foremost in controlling chemical contamination are proper storage and handling practices. Chemicals should be stored separately from food products and packaging materials to avoid contamination. Special care should be taken to thoroughly rinse cleaning products and sanitizers from equipment during clean-up, especially in areas where liquid tends to accumulate. In addition, only USDA approved chemicals should be used during cleaning and sanitizing. Pest control should be performed by professionals and chemical residues in incoming food products should be controlled. Other actions that may be taken include the use of approved chemicals only, keeping of an inventory of all chemicals, colorings and additives, frequent review of current procedures and formulations as well as audits of chemical use, adequate employee training and in-house testing. It is also good policy to keep up with new regulations.
Table 1. Chemical Hazards for Meat and Poultry
|Raw Materials||Pesticides, antibiotics, hormones, toxins, fertilizers, fungicides, heavy metals, PCBs.|
|Processing||Direct food additives-preservatives (nitrite), flavor enhancers, color additives.
Indirect food additives-boiler water additives, peeling aids, defoaming agents.
|Building and Equipment Maintenance||Lubricants, paints, coatings.|
|Sanitation||Pesticides, cleaners, sanitizers.|
|Storage and Shipping||All types of chemicals, cross contamination|