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10 Food Safety Terms Decoded

If you are involved in the food industry or want to understand more about food safety, you should know these 10 food safety terms

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Food safety refers to the proper handling, cooking, and preservation of food to protect people from food-borne illnesses caused by microbes such as fungi, bacteria, viruses, and parasites. 

If you’ve ever suffered from food poisoning, you know it can be a traumatic experience. Stomachaches, diarrhea, fever, vomiting, muscle aches, and more can be caused by a food-borne illness. This is why food safety is so critical. If people neglect to use proper food safety guidelines, they may cause themselves or others to fall seriously ill or in some cases even die. 

About 48 million people in the U.S. (1 in 6) get sick, 128,000 are hospitalized, and 3,000 die each year from foodborne diseases, according to recent data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. This is a significant public health burden that is largely preventable.

When it comes to learning about food safety, there are many organizations to know about and, yes, there will be acronyms! 

For starters, there’s the Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA). The FDA Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA) is transforming the nation’s food safety system by shifting the focus from responding to foodborne illness to preventing it. 

The FDA has finalized rules to implement FSMA, recognizing that ensuring the safety of the food supply is a shared responsibility among many different points in the global supply chain for both human and animal food. The FSMA rules are designed to make clear specific actions that must be taken at each of these points to prevent contamination.

If you are involved in the food industry, or you’re simply curious about various certifications and acronyms that have been floated out there, this is a breakdown of 10 Food Safety Terms. 

Ambient Temperature / Air Temperature

Ambient temperature describes the temperature surrounding food, whether in a transportation vehicle, a container, or storage area. In order to properly ascertain the air temperature, all you need is a thermometer and to follow these simple rules. Don’t and you’ll risk getting a “bad” temperature reading.

  • Keep the thermometer out of direct sunlight. 
  • Don’t place your thermometer too low near the ground or too high above it. 
  • Place the thermometer in an open, well-ventilated area. 
  • Keep the thermometer covered. 

A person washing hands in the kitchen sink


Cross-contamination is the process by which bacteria or other microorganisms are unintentionally transferred from one substance or object to another, with harmful effects. Preventing cross-contamination is a key factor in preventing foodborne illness. If you are handling food, you need to be concerned about cross-contamination at every stage, including: 

  • When shopping for ingredients
  • When refrigerating food items
  • When handling/preparing food
  • When serving food

Current Good Manufacturing Practices (CGMPs) 

Good Manufacturing Practices (GMP) is the system that certifies products are manufactured to meet certain international quality and safety requirements. Within GMP are procedures to oversee methods, equipment, facilities, and controls for all manufactured goods.

If you’re wondering what the difference between GMP and CGMP is, the “C” means current. In other words, GMP requires manufacturers to ensure that their products are safe and effective, but the added C requires manufacturers to employ technologies and systems that are up to date and comply with GMP regulations.

After all, what was up to date a decade ago is not necessarily up to date today. 

Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Points (HACCP)

GMP is a prerequisite program for Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Points (HACCP). HACCP is a management system in which food safety is addressed through the analysis and control of chemical, biological, and physical hazards from raw material production, procurement, and handling to manufacturing, distribution, and consumption of the finished product. 

HACCP involves the prevention of hazards rather than finished product inspection.

Critical control points

By definition of the FDA, a critical control point is any process step where control can be applied for the prevention or elimination of any potential food safety hazard. A systematic approach and significant focus are being placed on a critical control point along your food production process. A breach or loss of control of the established parameters for this critical control point can cause adverse public health issues due to unsafe food.

Critical control points are essential components of a HACCP food safety program to produce safe products.

Foreign Supplier Verification Programs (FSVP) for Importers of Food for Humans and Animals 

The FSMA FSVP rule requires that importers perform certain risk-based activities to verify that food imported into the United States has been produced in a manner that meets applicable U.S. safety standards.

The cold chain

The cold chain refers to managing the temperature of perishable products in order to maintain quality and safety from the point of origin throughout the distribution chain to the final consumer.

The cold chain ensures that perishable items, including pharmaceuticals and food products, are safe and of high quality when delivered to the consumer. Failing to keep products at the correct temperatures can result in discoloring, bruising, textural degradation, and microbial growth. 

Material Safety Data Sheets (MSDS) 

MSDS are sheets supplied by the chemical supplier that contain information on the potential hazards (health, fire, reactivity, and environmental) and how to work safely with the chemical product. It is an essential starting point for the development of a complete health and safety program. It also contains information on the use, storage, handling, and emergency procedures all related to the hazards of the material. MSDS are an important part of your HACCP plan.

Modified atmosphere packaging (MAP)

In order for food to be preserved properly, it has to be packaged in a temperature-controlled method so that it can survive transport. Modified atmosphere packaging (MAP) involves controlling the atmosphere surrounding the product within the package. A modified atmosphere can be created by changing the distribution of atmospheric gas that happens naturally. Employing an appropriate level of gas barrier helps maintain the changed atmosphere at a temperature that preserves the food as well as increases the shelf life of the product. 


When two or more people get the same illness from the same contaminated food or drink, the event is called a foodborne illness outbreak. FDA investigates outbreaks to control them, so more people do not get sick in the outbreak and to learn how to prevent similar outbreaks from happening in the future.

Quality Assurance (QA) 

Commitment to quality is quintessential for the food and beverage industry as their end-users directly consume the goods and products they produce and package. Of course, there are also various levels of the supply chain and overlooking quality at any one of these steps could compromise an organization’s brand reputation and customer relationships. Therefore, QA is a set of activities ensuring the quality standards and specifications in food safety. This includes monitorings, checklists, standards, documentation, and audits. 

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Governments should make food safety a public health priority, as they play a pivotal role in developing policies and regulatory frameworks and establishing and implementing effective food safety systems. Food handlers and consumers need to understand how to safely handle food and practice the WHO Five keys to safer food at home, or when selling at restaurants or at local markets. Food producers can safely grow fruits and vegetables using the WHO Five keys to growing safer fruits and vegetables.

The hope and intention of strict international standards (not to mention a raised awareness at home) is to reduce the likelihood of causing dangerous foodborne illness outbreaks.

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