ComplianceMate Blog

Three Major Food Hazards in the School Environment

There are three hazards that make food unsafe to eat and preventing these biological, chemical, and physical hazards from reaching dining halls, cafeterias, and other student food services is an essential part of safe food handling at schools and universities.

Common Types of Food Safety Hazards

  • Physical Food Hazards. When food is contaminated with inedible materials, these physical contaminants can cause injuries including choking, cuts, or internal injuries. Some items that can mistakenly make their way into the food supply include hair, metal scraps, glass pieces, and fruit pits.
  • Chemical Food Hazards. Naturally occurring or unintentionally introduced into food items during processing, chemical hazards can cause chemical burns, internal injury, poisoning, or long-term health issues. Examples include: pesticides, machine oils, cleansers and cleaning solutions, dissolved metals and excessive food additives.
  • Biological Food Hazards. Contamination of food by microorganisms including bacteria, viruses, mold, parasites, or yeasts can cause infection and food poisoning. In the United States, the most common biological culprits that cause illness in food are Norovirus, Salmonella, Clostridium perfringens, Campylobacter, and Staphylococcus aureus.1

Implementing automated food safety practices can help eliminate the three categories of food safety hazards that can cause foodborne illness or injury to students and faculty.

Preventing Food Hazards from Reaching Your Diners

Suppliers and manufacturers are responsible for safe handling during food production and serving and must comply with federal food safety regulations. Choosing reliable and established food vendors and food managers for your inventory will make sure your school or university is not introducing common food hazards from an outside source.

Once safe food arrives at your facility, your organization’s food safety protocols must prevent contamination and bacterial growth from happening during storage, preparation, and serving. In a recent case study, the Baltimore City Schools were implementing remote monitoring systems widely used in the hospitality industry, the value of food safety process monitoring equipment and software for schools was clearly and quickly demonstrated.

Not only did the Baltimore City Schools succeed in significantly reducing food waste by being proactively alerted to power outages and failing equipment, they were also able to prevent potentially unsafe food from reaching their students and staff. By using temperature monitoring sensors linked to an easy-to-use central dashboard, 

were able to restore safe temperatures quickly and discard any foods that were held at unsafe temperatures.

Identifying Food Hazards in Educational Environments

Food safety standards and protocols are only as good as the compliance of your foodservice staff. Keeping surfaces, serving trays, utensils, and countertops sanitary requires regular cleaning with safe cleaning solutions and disinfecting temperatures. While staff might be marking a manual checklist to keep track of food checks and cleaning procedures, handwritten paperwork is subject to human error and intentional inaccuracies.

Automated checklists track critical food safety steps like temperature control, personal hygiene, and prevent cross-contamination of foods in preparation. By implementing a system that tracks task completion and required process steps, and which can alert supervisors to issues in real time, schools and universities can reduce the risk of contaminated food being served to diners by identifying food hazards before they happen.

The Benefits of a Comprehensive Food Safety Management System

In the Baltimore City Schools case study, ComplianceMate sensors were installed in freezers and refrigeration units throughout the food service network. With vital information feeding back to a cloud-based management and reporting software system, administrators and food service managers could more easily monitor the success of their safe food handling procedures throughout the life cycle of every school meal.

The system assisted in making sure that food safety plans align with their HACCP policy Hazard Analysis Critical Control Points (HACCP) that specifically outlines safe temperature ranges and holding times for all food types served allows schools and universities to react with appropriate corrective actions and ultimately protect the health and safety of their students and staff.

The success of this case study has led to plans to install the same ComplianceMate systems across all sites in the Baltimore school district by the end of 2022. Not only did this system protect the safety of the food supply and reduce waste, but it also is expected to yield cost savings in the form of labor saving, food costs, and cleaning and storage involved in recovery from equipment failure and inventory loss.

Eliminating Food Safety Hazards in Student Meals

3D Isometric vector concept of Hazard Analysis and critical control points, HACCP Steps as are Hazard Analysis

Building a culture in your organization that fosters awareness and accountability within your food service team is a powerful step toward making large scale cafeterias and restaurants a safer place to eat. Creating a food safety management plan and installing the equipment to track staff and equipment compliance can help eliminate these hazards before they impact diners and your bottom line.

Your specific food safety protocols can be tailored to your facility and will include steps like these to eliminate food safety hazards.

Visually Inspect for Physical Hazards

Many physical hazards in food can be found with a visual inspection performed at every step of inventory management and meal preparation and confirm it with an automated checklist and suggested corrective actions.

  • Train staff to be alert to the possibility of dangerous food contaminants and to actively look for them.
  • Inspect packaging for damage and unpacked food products for any signs of contamination with shells, husks, pits, glass, plastic, or metal.
  • Return any food items to the supplier that appear to be contaminated and report the findings as appropriate.
  • Discard any food that has been in contact with cracked glass, plastic, or any inedible contaminant during storage or preparation.

Be Alert for Chemical Hazards

It is not always possible to identify a chemical food hazard, but steps can be taken to react to warning signs and prevent chemical contamination during food storage and preparation.

  • Inspect deliveries and be aware of unusual smells when opening a food item that might indicate chemical contamination.
  • Use only food-safe cleaning products on preparation surfaces and utensils.
  • Taste a sample of each batch of foods to be served and react to any issues.
  • Stay aware of open recalls and current food safety issues.

Prevent Biological Hazards

Preventing bacteria, viruses, and parasites from reaching your students or guests requires stringent adherence to food safety protocols because these hazards are microscopic. Clues of biological contamination are subtle and prevention is the best practice to prevent biological hazards.

  • Do not accept frozen or refrigerated deliveries that are outside the safe temperature range for those products.
  • Discard or return products which come in broken, swollen, or leaking packages.
  • Monitor temperatures and times in freezers, refrigerators, and on serving tables to maintain food quality and limit bacterial growth.
  • Implement procedures to prevent cross contamination between raw and cooked foods or hot and cold foods.
  • Discard any food that has passed its safe holding time or temperature or has an unknown history.

Be Aware of Allergen Hazards

While it is not considered one of the top three, another food safety hazard your staff should be aware of is dangerous food allergies. Protecting diners from unknowingly consuming items they might be allergic to is another important step in your food safety planning.

  • Mark or label food products that contain common allergens like eggs, nuts, shellfish, wheat, and dairy.
  • During food preparation, prevent cross contamination from surfaces, containers, and close contact with allergenic ingredients.
  • Train staff to prepare food items using approved recipes and consistency to avoid introducing potential allergens to foods your diners have safely eaten in the past.

Leveraging the Latest Food Safety Technology

School districts, colleges, and universities serve as many meals as some major restaurant chains each and every day. The same technology solutions can help cafeterias and dining halls eliminate food safety hazards, prevent food waste, and provide useful data reporting that helps your organization identify problems before they impact food safety or cause a food related injury.

ComplianceMate provides a comprehensive system of temperature monitoring equipment and easy to implement software that includes automated checklists and real time alerts. Cloud-based data analysis and reporting are valuable tools to continual process improvement. To find out more about how ComplianceMate can keep your foodservice at the highest levels of quality and safety, sign up for a free demo of the system today.