Identifying Physical Hazards Presentation 

There are three types of hazards in a food manufacturing process: physical, chemical and biological. Foreign objects are the most obvious evidence of a contaminated product and are therefore most likely to be reported by production or by consumer complaints. However, they are also less likely than chemical or biological contaminants to affect large numbers of people. When identifying physical hazards in your plant, it is important not to confuse aesthetics or quality issues with physical hazards.

What is a physical hazard?

A physical hazard is any extraneous object or foreign matter in a food item which may cause illness or injury to a person consuming the product. These foreign objects include, but are not limited to bone or bone chips, metal flakes or fragments, injection needles, BB's or shotgun pellets, pieces of product packaging, stones, glass or wood fragments, insects or other filth, personal items, or any other foreign material not normally found in food products. Sources for such contaminants include raw materials, badly maintained facilities and equipment, improper production procedures and poor employee practices. Processors must determine procedures to control physical hazards and then, during the hazard analysis portion of developing a HACCP plan, determine whether or not the severity and rate of occurrence indicate implementation of a control at that point.

How can physical hazards be controlled?

Control methods include raw material inspection and specification, vendor certification and letters of guarantees, metal detectors, x-ray technology (to detect bone fragments), effective pest control in the facility, preventative equipment maintenance and proper sanitation procedures. In addition, proper maintenance and calibration of detection equipment is vital. Also important are appropriate handling of packaging material, proper shipping, receiving and storage practices as well as tamper-proof or tamper-evident packaging. Equally important is employee education, since a significant portion of items reported in food products are personal effects dropped by employees. It is also worth considering less obvious methods of prevention like protected light fixtures and controlling contact between pieces of machinery.

The following tables indicate some possible physical that may be found in meat processing operations.

Eight Most Common Food Categories Implicated In Reported Foreign Object Complaintsa
Food CategoryNumber of ComplaintsPercentb



Soft Drinks






Infants Foods












Chocolate and Cocoa Products



a adapted from Hyman et al.(1991). Does not include meat and poultry categories
or suspected or confirmed tampering complaints.
b Percent of total (2726) reported foreign object complaints received by the FDA Complaint
Reporting System from 10/1/88 through 9/30/89

Main Materials of Concern as Physical Hazards and Commona Sources
MaterialInjury PotentialSources
Glass Cuts, bleeding; may require surgery to find or remove Bottles, jars, light fixtures, utensils, gauge covers
Wood Cuts, infection, choking; may require surgery to remove Fields, pallets, boxes, buildings
Stones Choking, broken teeth Fields, buildings
Bullet/BB Shot/Needles Cuts, infection; may require surgery to remove Animals shot in field, hypodermic needles used for infections.
Jewelry Cuts, infection; may require surgery to remove Pens/pencils, buttons, careless employee practices.
Metal Cuts, infection; may require surgery to remove Machinery, fields, wire, employees
Insects and other filth Illness, trauma, choking Fields, plant post-process entry
Insulation Choking; long-term if asbestos Building materials
Bone Choking, trauma Fields, improper plant processing
Plastic Choking, cuts, infection; may require surgery to remove Fields, plant packaging materials, pallets, employees
Personal effects Choking, cuts, broken teeth; may require surgery to remove Employee