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?
Table 1. Chemical Hazards for Meat and Poultry