Unit 4 Guidelines to prevent chemical hazards in food

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In general, there are some basic rules of common sense to keep food from being contaminated by harmful chemicals (Hutchings, 2016):

  • Chemicals should be stored away from food storage and contact surfaces. There should be a specific area for chemical storage where chemicals are labelled clearly. If a chemical does not have a label, it should not be used and should be discarded safely.
  • Fruit and vegetables should be washed thoroughly before further processing or being served to consumers.
  • The instructions of the manufacturer for the proper chemical product use must be followed carefully, and hands and any contact surfaces must be washed thoroughly after chemical handling.

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Also, chemical containers are usually colour-coded to distinguish how dangerous a chemical product is (Govus, 2021). The main colour codes are:

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    Blue – Toxic: Hazardous to health if ingested, inhaled or absorbed through the skin. Store in a separate area.
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    Red – Flammable: Store separately only with other flammable chemicals in a flammable liquid storage area.
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    Yellow – Reactive: May react violent with water, air or other chemicals. Store separate from combustibles and flammables.
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    Green – Moderate: Doesn’t present more than a moderate hazard. Stored in general chemical storage.
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    White – Corrosive: May be harmful to eyes and skin. Store separate from combustibles and flammables.
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    Black/white stripes: Incompatible with other reagents of the same colour. For example, acids (white) and bases (black/white stripes) should be stored separately.

Image from StateFoodSafety

Apart from the colour codes, the labels of the chemical products use hazard pictograms. A hazard pictogram is an image on a label that provides information about the damage a chemical substance or mixture can cause to our health or the environment (European Chemicals Agency, n.d.). The most important pictograms for a food handler are listed below:

Symbol Meaning Effects on health Examples of chemical products Precautionary statements

Corrosive

Severe skin burns and eye damage

Drain cleaners, acetic acid, hydrochloric acid, ammoniac

Keep only in original container.
Store locked up.
Wear protective gloves and clothing, use eye and face protection.
Do not breathe it.
Wash hands thoroughly after handling.

Health hazard/ Hazardous to the ozone layer

Respiratory irritation

Serious eye irritation

Skin irritation or allergic skin reactions

Drowsiness or dizziness

Harmful if swallowed

Harms public health and the environment by destroying ozone in the upper atmosphere

Washing detergents, toilet cleaner, coolant fluid

Use only outdoors or in a well-ventilated area.
Wear protective gloves and clothing, use eye and face protection.
Do not breathe it.
Do not eat, drink or smoke when using this product.
If inhaled: remove victim to fresh air and keep at rest in a position comfortable for breathing.
If swallowed: call a poison centre or a doctor/physician.
If on skin: wash with plenty of soap and water.
If in eyes: rinse cautiously with water for several minutes. Remove contact lens, if present and easy to do. Continue rinsing.

Acute toxicity

Fatal if inhaled, if swallowed, in contact with skin

Toxic if inhaled, if swallowed, in contact with skin

Pesticide, biocide, methanol

Store in a closed container.
Store locked up.
Use only outdoors or in a well-ventilated area.
Do not breathe it.
Wear respiratory protection, protective gloves and clothing, use eye and face protection.
Do not eat, drink or smoke when using this product.
Wash hands and rinse mouth thoroughly after handling.
If swallowed: immediately call a poison centre or a doctor/physician.
If on skin: gently wash with plenty of soap and water.
If inhaled: Remove victim to fresh air and keep at rest in a position comfortable for breathing.
Remove/take off immediately all contaminated clothing.
Wash contaminated clothing before reuse.                                                                  

Allergy or asthma symptoms or breathing difficulties if inhaled

Fatal if swallowed and enters airways

Damage to organs, fertility or the unborn child

Cancerogenic

Genetic defects

Allergy or asthma symptoms or breathing difficulties if inhaled

Fatal if swallowed and enters airways

Damage to organs, fertility or the unborn child

Cancerogenic

Genetic defects

Turpentine, petrol, lamp oil

Store locked up.
Obtain special instructions before use.
Use personal protective equipment as required.
In case of inadequate ventilation wear respiratory protection.
Do not breathe it.
Do not eat, drink or smoke when using this product.
Wash hands thoroughly after handling.
If swallowed: immediately call a poison centre or a doctor/physician.
Do NOT induce vomiting.
If inhaled: Remove victim to fresh air and keep at rest in a position comfortable for breathing.

Hazardous to the environment

Very toxic to aquatic life with long lasting effects

Pesticides, biocides, petrol, turpentine

Avoid release to the environment.

Collect spillage.

The EU has one of the highest food safety standards in the world thanks to the solid set of EU legislation in place, which ensures that food is safe for consumers. When risks to public health are detected in the food chain, the Rapid Alert System for Food and Feed (RASFF) portal is the key tool to ensure the flow of information to everyone and enable quick reaction (European Commission, n.d.). The portal provides the latest information on food recalls and public health warnings in all EU countries. Thanks to RASFF, many food safety risks had been avoided before they could have been harmful to European consumers.

The RASFF database includes the latest information on food recall notices and also public health warnings, issued by food safety authorities and food companies. Consumers or food handlers can identify food that has been flagged in the system allowing them to make more informed choices.

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