Food Safety Vocabulary

Food Safety Vocabulary Words to Study

The 5 most common food-handling mistakes are

  1. Purchasing food from unsafe sources,
  2. failing to cook food correctly,
  3. holding food at incorrect temperatures,
  4. using contaminated equipment,
  5. and practicing poor personal hygiene.

Abrasive Cleaners

Cleaners containing a scouring agent used to scrub off hard-to-remove soils. They may scratch some surfaces.


Level of acid in a food. An acidic substance has a pH below 7.0. Foodborne microorganisms typically do not grow in highly acidic food, while they grow best in food with a neutral to slightly acidic pH.

Active managerial control

Food safety management system designed to prevent foodborne illness by addressing the five most common risk factors identified by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

Air curtains

Devices installed above or alongside doors that blow a steady stream of air across an entryway, creating an air shield around open doors. Insects avoid them. Also called air doors or fly fans.

Air gap

Air space used to separate a water-supply outlet from any potentially contaminated source. The air space between the floor drain and the drainpipe of a sink is an example. An air gap is the only completely reliable method for preventing backflow.


The FDA’s tool that can be used to develop a food defense program. Assure, Look, Employees, Reports, Threat, allergy Symptoms nausea, Wheezing or shortness of breath, hives or itchy rashes, swelling of various parts of the body, vomiting and/or diarrhea, and abdominal pain.


Level of alkali in food. pH above 7.0. Most food not alkaline.


American National Standards Institute

Approved suppliers

Suppliers that have been inspected, are able to provide an inspection report, and that meet applicable local, state, and federal laws.


Unwanted reverse flow of contaminants through a cross-connection into a drinkable water system. It occurs when the pressure in the drinkable water supply drops below the pressure of the contaminated supply.


Single-celled, living microorganisms that can spoil food and cause foodborne illness. Bacteria present in food can quickly multiply to dangerous levels when food is incorrectly cooked, held, or reheated. Some form spores that can survive freezing and very high temperatures.

Bacterial growth

Reproduction of bacteria by splitting in two. When conditions are favorable, bacterial growth can be rapid—doubling the population as often as every twenty minutes. Their growth can be broken down into four phases: lag phase, log phase, stationary phase, and death phase.

Bimetallic stemmed thermometer

The most common and versatile type of thermometer, measuring temperature through a metal probe with a sensor in the end. Most can measure temperatures from 0 ̊F to 220 ̊F (–18 ̊C to 104 ̊C) and are accurate to within ±2 ̊F (±1 ̊C). They are easily calibrated.

Biological contaminants

Microorganisms, such as viruses, bacteria, parasites, and fungi, as well as toxins found in certain plants, mushrooms, and seafood, that have contaminated food.

Biological toxins

Poisons produced by pathogens, plants, or animals. They can also occur in animals as a result of their diet.

Blast chiller

Equipment designed to cool food quickly. Many are able to cool food from 135 ̊F to 37 ̊F (57 ̊C to 3 ̊C) within 90 minutes.

Boiling Point Method

Method of calibrating a thermometer based on the boiling point of water.


Process of ensuring that a thermometer gives accurate readings by adjusting it to a known standard, such as the freezing point or boiling point of water.


Center for Disease Control and Prevention.


People who carry pathogens and infect others, yet never get sick themselves.

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

Agencies of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services that investigate foodborne-illness outbreaks, study the causes and control of disease, publish statistical data, and conduct the Vessel Sanitation Program.

Ciguatera Toxin

Found in barracuda, snapper, grouper, and amberjack.

Chemical contaminant

Chemicals that have contaminated food because they were used or stored the wrong way. Cleaners, sanitizers, polishes, machine lubricants, and pesticides can be risks. Also included are deoderizers, first-aid products, health and beauty products such as hand lotions and hairspray.

Chemical hazards

Chemical substances that can contaminate food, such as cleaners, sanitizers, polishes, machine lubricants, and toxic metals, that leach from cookware and equipment.

Chemical sanitizing

Using a chemical solution to reduce the number of microorganisms on a clean surface to safe levels. Items can be sanitized by immersing in a specific concentration of sanitizing solution for a required period of time or by rinsing, swabbing, or spraying the items with a specific concentration of sanitizing solution.


Commonly used chemical sanitizer due to its low cost and effectiveness. It kills a wide range of microorganisms.


Free of visible dirt. It refers only to the appearance of a surface.


Chemicals that remove food, dirt, rust stains, minerals, or other deposits from surfaces.


Process of removing food and other types of dirt from a surface, such as a countertop or plate

Cold-Holding Equipment

Equipment specifically designed to hold cold food at an internal temperature of 41 F or lower

Contact Spray

Spray used to kill insects on contact. Usually used on groups of insects, such as clusters of roaches and nests of ants.


The amount of sanitizer to water measured in parts per million (ppm). The concentration of sanitizer affects the effectiveness of the sanitizer solution.


Presence of harmful substances in food. Some food safety hazards occur naturally, while others are introduced by humans or the environment.

Corrective action

Predetermined step taken when food does not meet a critical limit.


Curved, sealed edge placed between the floor and wall to eliminate sharp corners or gaps that would be impossible to clean.


When pathogens are transferred from one surface or food to another.

Critical control points (CCPs)

In a HACCP system, the points in the process where you can intervene to prevent, eliminate, or reduce identified hazards to safe level.

Critical limit

In a HACCP system, the minimum or maximum limit a critical control point (CCP) must meet in order to prevent, eliminate, or reduce a hazard to an acceptable level.


Physical link through which contaminants from drains, sewers, or other wastewater sources can enter a drinkable water supply. A hose connected to a faucet and submerged in a mop bucket is an example.


The transfer of an allergen from a food containing an allergen to a food that does not contain the allergen.

Date marking

A date on ready-to-eat TCS food held for more than 24 hours indicating by when the food must be sold, eaten, or thrown out.


Alkaline detergents, often called degreasers, that contain a grease-dissolving agent.


Cleaner designed to penetrate and soften dirt to help remove it from a surface.


Used on mineral deposits and other soils that alkaline cleaners cannot remove, such as scale, rust, and tarnish

Dry Storage

Storage used to hold dry and canned food at temperatures between 50 F and 70 F and at a relative humidity of 50 to 60 percent.

Electronic insect eliminator

Mechanical device that uses light to attract flying insects to an electrically charged grid that kills them.

Enterohemmorrhagic and shiga toxin-producing E. Coli

Can be found in the intestines of cattle. Can contaminate meat during slaughtering. Linked to ground beef and contaminated produce. Exclude workers with diarrhea. Cook foods to minimal internal temperature, purchase foods from approved reputable supplies, prevent cross-contamination between raw meat and ready to eat foods


Environmental Protection Agency

Environmental Protection Agency

Federal agency that sets standards for environmental quality, including air and water quality, and regulates pesticide use and waste handling.


Food, Acidity, Temperature, Time, Oxygen, and Moisture.

FDA Food Code

Science-based reference for retail food operations on how to prevent foodborne illness. These recommendations are issued by the FDA to assist state health departments in developing regulations for a foodservice inspection program


Food and Drug Administration- Inspects all food except meat, poultry, and eggs. Also regulates food transported across state lines and issues a food code.

Finger cot

Protective covering used to cover a correctly bandaged cut or wound on the finger.

First-in, first-out (FIFO)

Method of stock rotation in which products are shelved based on their use-by or expiration dates, so oldest products are used first.

Flood rim

Spill-over point of a sink.

Flow of food

Path food takes through an operation, from purchasing and receiving through storing, preparing, cooking, holding, cooling, reheating, and serving.

Food additives

Substances added to food to lengthen its shelf life. They are also used to alter food so it does not need time and temperature control. Some are used to enhance flavor.

Food allergen

A naturally-occurring protein in food or in an ingredient that some people are sensitive to. If enough of an allergen is eaten, an allergic reaction can occur.

Food allergy

The body’s negative reaction to a particular food protein.

Foodborne illness

Illness carried or transmitted to people by food.

Foodborne-illness outbreak

An incident in which two or more people experience the same illness symptoms after eating the same food. An investigation is conducted by the state and local regulatory authorities, and the outbreak is confirmed by a laboratory analysis.

Food codes

State level food safety regulations that are written and adopted.

Food-contact surface

Surface that comes into direct contact with food, such as a cutting board.

Food defense

Program developed and implemented by an operation to prevent deliberate contamination of its food.

Food safety management system

Group of programs, procedures, and measures designed to prevent foodborne illness by actively controlling risks and hazards throughout the flow of food.


Unit of lighting equal to the illumination one foot from a uniform light source. Also called lux.


Includes yeasts, molds, and mushrooms that produce toxins that cause foodborne illness. Purchase all mushrooms from approved, reputable suppliers

Food and Drug Administration

Federal agency that issues the FDA food code working jointly with USDA and the CDC. Inspects foodservice operations that cross state borders – interstate establishments such as food manufacturers and processors, and planes and trains – because they overlap the jurisdictions of two or more states.

Food Safety and Inspection Service

Agency of USDA that inspects and grades meat, meat products, poultry, dairy products,eggs, and egg products, and fruit and vegetables shipped across state boundaries.

Glue Board

Pest-Control device in which mice are trapped by glue and then die from exhaustion or lack of water or air.

HACCP plan

Written document based on HACCP principles describing procedures a particular operation will follow to ensure the safety of food served. See Hazard Analysis Critical Control Point.

Hair restraint

Device used to keep a food handler’s hair away from food and to keep the individual from touching it.

Hand antiseptic

Liquid or gel used to lower the number of microorganisms on the skin’s surface. Hand antiseptics should only be used after correct handwashing, not in place of it. Only those hand antiseptics that are compliant with the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) should be used.

Handwashing station

Sink designated for handwashing only. Handwashing stations must be conveniently located in restrooms, food-preparation areas, service areas, and dishwashing areas.

Hard water

Water containing minerals such as calcium and iron in concentrations higher than 120 parts per million (ppm).

Hazard analysis

Process of identifying and evaluating potential hazards associated with food in order to determine what must be addressed in the HACCP plan.

Hazard Analysis Critical Control Point (HACCP)

Food safety management system based on the idea that if significant biological, chemical, or physical hazards are identified at specific points within a product’s flow through the operation, they can be prevented, eliminated, or reduced to safe levels.

Health inspector

City, county, or state staff member who conducts foodservice inspections. Health inspectors are also known as sanitarians, health officials, and environmental health specialists. They are generally trained in food safety, sanitation, and public health principles.

Heat sanitizing

Using heat to reduce the number of microorganisms on a clean surface to safe levels. One common way to heat sanitize tableware, utensils, or equipment is to submerge them in or spray them with hot water.

Hepatitis A

Mainly found in the feces of people infected with it. Linked to ready-to-eat food and shellfish from contaminated water. Exclude workers that have been diagnosed or who have jaundice. Wash hands, avoid bare-hand contact with ready-to-eat food, purchase shellfish from approved reputable supplies.

High-risk population

People susceptible to foodborne illness due to the effects of age or health on their immune systems, including infants and preschool-age children, older people, people taking certain medications, and those with certain diseases or weakened immune systems.


Biological toxin associated with temperature-abused scombroid fish (and other affected species), which causes scombroid poisoning.


Person, animal, or plant on which another organism lives and from which it takes nourishment.

Hot Holding Equipment

Equipment such as chafing dishes, steam tables, and heated cabinets specifically designed to hold food at an internal temperature of 135 F or higher.

Ice paddle

Plastic paddle filled with ice or water and then frozen. Used to stir hot food to cool it quickly

Ice Point Method

Method of calibrating thermometers based on the freezing point of water

Ice-water bath

Method of cooling food in which a container holding hot food is placed into a sink or larger container of ice water. The ice water surrounding the hot food container disperses the heat quickly.

Imminent health hazard

A significant threat or danger to health that requires immediate correction or closure to prevent injury

Immune system

The body’s defense system against illness. People with compromised immune systems are more susceptible to foodborne illness.


Situation that exists when pests overrun or inhabit an establishment in large numbers

Integrated Pest Management

Program using prevention measures to keep pests from entering an establishment and contriol measures to eliminate any pests that do get inside.


Sanitizer effective at low concentrations and not as quickly inactivated by dirt as chlorine. It might stain surfaces and is less effective than chlorine


Yellowing of the skin and eyes that could indicate a person is sick with hepatitis A.

Key drop delivery

The receipt of food by a foodservice operation after-hours while closed for business.


Modified Atmosphere Packaging

Master cleaning schedule

Detailed schedule listing all cleaning tasks in an operation, when and how they are to be performed, and who will perform them.

Material Safety Data Sheets (MSDS)

Sheets supplied by the chemical manufacturer listing the chemical and its common names, its potential physical and health hazards, information about using and handling it safely, and other important information. OSHA requires employers to store these sheets so they are accessible to staff.


Small, living organisms that can be seen only with the aid of a microscope. There are four types of microorganisms that can contaminate food and cause foodborne illness: bacteria, viruses, parasites, and fungi.

Maximum registering thermometer

Type of thermometer indicates the highest temperature reached during use and it is used where temperature readings cannot be continuously observed such as in a dishwashing machine.

Minimum internal temperature

The required minimum temperature the internal portion of food must reach to sufficiently reduce the number of microorganisms that might be present. This temperature is specific to the type of food being cooked. Food must reach and hold its required internal temperature for a specified amount of time.

Modified atmosphere packaging (MAP)

Packaging method by which the air inside of a package is altered using gases, such as carbon dioxide and nitrogen. Many fresh-cut produce items are packaged this way.


Type of fungus that causes food spoilage. Some molds produce toxins that can cause foodborne illness.


In a HACCP system, the process of analyzing whether critical limits are being met and procedures are being followed.


Often transferred to food when infected food handlers touch food or equipment with fingers that have feces on them. Linked to ready-to-eat food and shellfish from contaminated water. Exclude staff that has been diagnosed or that have vomiting and diarrhea. Wash hands, avoid bare-hand contact with ready-to-eat foods. Purchase shellfish from approved reputable suppliers.


The organization that creates the national standard for food service equipment that comes in contact with food. Equipment must be nonabsorbent, smooth, can corrosion resistant. Food equipment must also be easy to clean, durable, and resistant to damage


Occupational Safety and Health Administration Federal Agency that regulates and monitors workplace safety.

Off-site service

Service of food to someplace other than where it is prepared or cooked, including catering and vending.


Organism that needs to live in a host organism to survive. Parasites can be found in water and inside many animals, such as cows, chickens, pigs, and fish. Correct cooking and freezing will kill parasites. Avoiding cross-contamination and practicing correct handwashing can also prevent illness.


Require a host to live and reproduce, commonly associated with seafood, wild game, and food processed with contaminated water. Prevent by purchasing food from approved reputable suppliers. cook foods to required minimum internal temperatures, and make sure that fish that will be served raw or undercooked has been correctly frozen by the manufacturer.


Illness-causing microorganisms.

Personal hygiene

Habits that include keeping the hands, hair, and body clean and wearing clean and appropriate uniforms. Avoiding unsanitary actions and reporting illness and injury are also features of good personal hygiene.

Pest control operator (PCO)

Licensed professional who uses safe, current methods to prevent and control pests.


Chemical used to control pests, usually insects.


Measure of a food’s acidity or alkalinity. The pH scale ranges from 0 to 14.0. A pH between 7.1 and 14 is alkaline, while a pH between 0.0 and 6.9 is acidic. A pH of 7.0 is neutral. Foodborne microorganisms grow well in food that has a neutral to slightly acidic pH (7.5 to 4.6).

Physical contaminants

Physical objects, such as hair, dirt, metal staples, and broken glass, as well as bones in fillets, which have contaminated food.

Physical hazards

Foreign objects that can accidentally get into food and contaminate it, such as hair, dirt, metal staples, and broken glass, as well as naturally-occurring objects, such as bones in fillets.

Pooled eggs

Eggs that have been cracked open and combined in a common container.


Public Health Service

State and Local Regulatory Authorities

Write or adopt code that regulates retail and foodservice operations. Inspects operations, enforces regulations, investigates complaints and illnesses, issues licenses and permits, approves construction, and reviews and approves HACCP plans.


Quaternary ammonim compound- Used as a chemical sanitizer.

Factors that influence the effectiveness of chemical sanitizers

Concentration, Temperature, Contact Time, Water Hardness, and pH.

Concentration the amount of sanitizer to water measured in parts per million (ppm). Used a test kit to ensure the proper concentration water hardness affects how well a sanitizer works. It is the amount of minerals present in your water.

Ready to eat foods

Foods that can be eaten without further preparation, washing, or cooking. This includes cooked food, washed fruit and vegetables (whole or cut), deli meat, bakery items, sugar, spices, and seasonings.

Record keeping

In a HACCP system, the process of collecting documents that allow you to show you are continuously preparing and serving safe food.

Reduced-oxygen packaging (ROP).

Packaging method that reduces the amount of oxygen available in order to slow microbial growth. ROP methods include sous vide, MAP, and vacuum packaging.


Laws determining standards of behavior. Restaurant and foodservice regulations are typically written at the state level and based on the FDA Food Code.


Prohibiting food handlers from working with or around food, food equipment, and utensils.

Residual Spray

Type of pesticide spray that leaves behind a film that insects absorb as they crawl across it.

ROP foods

Reduced-oxygen packaging (Includes MAP, vacuum-packed, and sous vide food)


Chemical used to sanitize. Chlorine, iodine, and quats are the three most common types of chemical sanitizer in the restaurant and foodservice industry.


Process of reducing the number of microorganisms on a clean surface to safe levels.

Shelf life

Recommended period of time during which food can be stored and remain suitable for use.

Single-use gloves

Disposable gloves designed for one-time use. They provide a barrier between hands and the food they touch. Gloves should never be used in place of handwashing. Food handlers should wash hands before putting on gloves and when changing to a new pair.

Single-use paper towel

Paper towel designed to be used once, then discarded.

Sneeze guard

Food shield placed over self-service displays and food bars that extends seven inches beyond the food and 14 inches above the food counter.

Sous vide

Packaging method by which cooked or partially cooked food is vacuum packed in individual pouches and then chilled. This food is heated for service in the operation. Frozen, precooked meals are often packaged this way.


Form that some bacteria can take to protect themselves when nutrients are not available. Spores are commonly found in dirt and can contaminate food grown there. A spore can resist heat, allowing it to survive cooking temperatures. Spores can also revert back to a form capable of growth. This can occur when food is not held at the correct temperature or cooled or reheated correctly.

Salmonella Typhi

Found in Ready-to-eat food and beverages. Excluded food handlers who have been diagnosed with illness, wash hands, cook food to minimum internal temperatures

Shellstock identifications

Tags that indicate when and where the shellfish were harvested. They must be kept on file for 90 days from the date the last shellfish was used from its delivery container

Shigella spp

Found in the feces. Flies can transfer the bacteria to food. Linked to foods easily contaminated by hands such as salads containing TCS food and food that has made contact with contaminated water such as produce. Exclude food handlers who have been diagnosed with illness or have diarrhea, wash hands, and control flies inside and outside the operation.

TCS Foods

Food that requires time and temperature control for safety. These foods need to be kept out of the temperature danger zone

Temperature danger zone

The temperature range between 41 ̊F and 135 ̊F (5 ̊C to 57 ̊C), within which most foodborne microorganisms rapidly grow.


Thermometers that check food temperature through a sensor on the tip of a metal probe.


Device for accurately measuring the internal temperature of food, the air temperature inside a freezer or cooler, or the temperature of equipment. Bimetallic stemmed thermometers, thermocouples, and thermistors are common types of thermometers used in the restaurant and foodservice industry.


Thermometers that check food temperature through a sensor on the tip of a metal probe.

Time-Temperature Abuse

When food has stayed too long at temperatures that are good for the growth of pathogens. Food is not held or stored at correct temperatures, Food is not cooked or reheated enough to kill pathogens, and food is not cooled correctly

Time-temperature indicator (TTI)

Time and temperature monitoring device attached to a food shipment to determine if the product’s temperature has exceeded safe limits during shipment or subsequent storage.


Poisons produced by pathogens, plants, or animals. Some occur in animals as a result of their diet

Toxin symptoms

Can include diarrhea or vomiting. Neurological symptoms may appear such as tingling in the extremities and the reversal of hot and cold sensations. People may also experience flushing of face, difficulty breathing, burning in the mouth, heart palpitations, and hives.


The U.S. Department of Agriculture- Regulates and inspects meat, poultry, and eggs. Also regulates food that crosses state boundaries or involves more than one state.

Vacuum breaker

Device preventing the backflow of contaminants into a drinkable water system.

Vacuum-packed food

Food processed by removing air from around it while sealed in a package. This process increases the product’s shelf life.


Document issued by a regulatory agency that allows a requirement to be waived or modified.

Vending machine

Machines that dispense hot and cold food, beverages, and snacks.


In a HACCP system, the process of confirming that critical control points and critical limits are appropriate, that monitoring is alerting you to hazards, that corrective actions are adequate to prevent foodborne illness from occurring, and that staff are following established procedures.


Smallest of the microbial food contaminants. Viruses rely on a living host to reproduce. They usually contaminate food through a food handler’s incorrect personal hygiene. Some survive freezing and cooking temperatures.

Water activity (aw)

Amount of moisture available in food for microorganisms to grow. It is measured in a scale from 0.0 to 1.0, with water having a water activity (aw) of 1.0. TCS food typically has a water-activity value of 0.85 or higher.


Type of fungus that causes food spoilage.


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