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Food Safety Glossary

The following are some common terms associated with combatting foodborne illness:


Living single-celled organisms. They can be carried by water, wind, insects, plants, animals and people. Bacteria survive well on skin and clothes and in human hair. They also thrive in scabs, scars, the mouth, nose, throat, intestines and room-temperature foods.

Biological hazard:
Refers to the danger of food contamination by disease-causing microorganisms (bacteria, viruses, parasites or fungi) and their toxins and by certain plants and fish that carry natural toxins.

The removal of visible soil and debris.

The unintended presence of potentially harmful substances, including microorganisms in food.

The transfer of harmful substances or disease-causing microorganisms to food by hands, food-contact surfaces, sponges, cloth towels and utensils that touch raw food, are not cleaned, and then touch ready-to-eat foods. Cross-contamination can also occur when raw food touches or drips onto cooked or ready-to-eat foods.

Foodborne illness:
A disease that is carried or transmitted to humans by food containing harmful substances. Examples are the disease salmonellosis, which is caused by Salmonella bacteria and the disease botulism, which is caused by the toxin produced by the bacteria Clostridium botulinum.

Food contact surface:
Any equipment or utensil which normally comes in contact with food or which may drain, drip or splash on food or on surfaces normally in contact with food. Examples: cutting boards, knives, sponges, countertops and colanders.

A group of microorganisms that includes molds and yeasts.

HACCP Hazard Analysis Critical Control Points
HACCP (pronounced hassip) is a system originally designed by NASA for monitoring food production. HACCP involves seven principles:
  • Analyze hazards. Potential hazards associated with a food and measures to control those hazards are identified. The hazard could be biological, such as a microbe; chemical, such as a toxin; or physical, such as ground glass or metal fragments.
  • Identify critical control points. These are points in a food's production--from its raw state through processing and shipping to consumption by the consumer--at which the potential hazard can be controlled or eliminated. Examples are cooking, cooling, packaging, and metal detection.
  • Establish preventive measures with critical limits for each control point. For a cooked food, for example, this might include setting the minimum cooking temperature and time required to ensure the elimination of any harmful microbes.
  • Establish procedures to monitor the critical control points. Such procedures might include determining how and by whom cooking time and temperature should be monitored.
  • Establish corrective actions to be taken when monitoring shows that a critical limit has not been met--for example, reprocessing or disposing of food if the minimum cooking temperature is not met.
  • Establish procedures to verify that the system is working properly--for example, testing time-and-temperature recording devices to verify that a cooking unit is working properly.
  • Establish effective recordkeeping to document the HACCP system. This would include records of hazards and their control methods, the monitoring of safety requirements and action taken to correct potential problems. Each of these principles must be backed by sound scientific knowledge: for example, published microbiological studies on time and temperature factors for controlling foodborne pathogens.

The number of new cases of foodborne illness in a given population during a specified period of time (e.g., the number of new cases per 100,000 population per year).

A small life form, only seen through a microscope, that may cause disease. Examples: bacteria, fungi, parasites or viruses.

An incident in which two or more people experience the same illness after eating the same food.

A microorganism that needs a host to survive. Examples: Cryptosporidium, Toxoplasma.

A microorganism that is infectious and causes disease.

The removal of disease causing bacteria.

A thick-walled protective structure produced by certain bacteria and fungi to protect their cells. Spores often survive cooking, freezing and some sanitizing measures.

Poisons that are produced by microorganisms, carried by fish or released by plants. Examples: Botulism caused by the toxin from Clostridium botulinum, scombroid poisoning from the naturally occurring scombroid toxin in some improperly refrigerated fish, such as mackerel and tuna.

A protein-wrapped genetic material which is the smallest and simplest life-form known. Example: Norwalk virus, hepatitis A.

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