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What is Food Sanitation?

Mary McMahon
Updated May 16, 2024
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Food sanitation is the practice of following certain rules and procedures to prevent the contamination of food, keeping it safe to eat. Many jurisdictions around the world have specific food sanitation laws, along with lists of regulations created by public health agencies. The practice of food sanitation is recommended at every step of the supply chain within the food industry, from workers in crop fields to waiters at restaurants. The term "food sanitation" typically refers to rules and procedures within the food industry, whether during production, packaging, transporting or serving. At the consumer level, such as in a home kitchen, practices designed to ensure that food is uncontaminated and safe to eat are often referred to using the term "food hygiene."

Food Safety Issues

From the moment that food is produced or harvested to the time that it is eaten, it is vulnerable to contamination from bacteria and other substances that could be harmful. The key to food sanitation is keeping food safe and clean, with all of its handlers complying with the necessary rules and recommendations. These rules concern things such as safe holding temperatures for the food; safe cooking temperatures; sterilization of cutting boards and other implements; proper attire for handlers, such as gloves and breathing masks; and times or dates by which the food should be eaten, served or sold.

Sanitation Within the Food Industry

Within the commercial food industry, food sanitation can get complex. A single mistake along the supply chain could make many people sick from eating contaminated food. For example, if a deli worker failed to wash his or her hands after using the restroom and then prepared a dozen boxed salads, many customers could get sick from fecal bacteria on the leaves of the salad greens. If a case of meat at a packaging plant was not stored at the proper temperature, it could be sold, transported and then served in a restaurant, possibly making the restaurant's customers sick, even if the restaurant followed all of the proper food sanitation guidelines. Within many jurisdictions, any business that produces food or sells it to consumers must pass regular inspections that ensure that all sanitation laws and procedures are being followed.

Common Problems

Outbreaks of foodborne illness because of poor food sanitation are a recurrent problem in many regions of the world. Failure to process foods properly has led to sickness from foods such as peanut butter, spinach, hamburger meat and many other basic staples, and outbreaks have been traced to restaurants, roadside food stands and many other locations where food is sold or served. Even institutions such as churches and community bake sales are not exempt from food safety issues, making it important for people to remember to use handling precautions every time they come into contact with food. Information about food safety is available from many government agencies and health organizations.

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Mary McMahon
By Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a DelightedCooking researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

Discussion Comments
By anon931883 — On Feb 10, 2014

Both averagejoe and apolo72 raise interesting questions regarding sanitation standards in today's world. I took up safety and sanitation matters after a forced retirement from a previous job dealing with employment training. In terms of sanitation, I found that the lowly cockroach is perhaps one of the main challenges to our modern food chain. I do not believe that we, in America have relaxed our standards; ask any food producer in California. The greater expense lies in combating the lowly cockroach, ants and rodents that spread colonies of new, pesticide-resistant insecticides.

Apolo72 correctly believes that we "place a lot more focus on food sanitation than we did in the past", partly because of our effort to combat disease and partly because contaminants find natural methods to protect themselves from our sanitation efforts. I believe that we are undoubtedly much cleaner today than a few decades past. However, mother nature in her divine wisdom allows her creatures to thrive. --Chaleese

By averagejoe — On Jul 03, 2010

@apolo72 - I see where you're coming from. I agree that food processors have relaxed their standards. Who knows why -- if to just maximize profits or just to stay in business -- but I do think that those relaxed standards have resulted in the requirement that more expansive food sanitation requirements be implemented.

By apolo72 — On Jul 02, 2010

I'm in no way against food sanitation, so let me put that out there from the outset. But, I wonder... We place a lot more focus on food sanitation than we did in the past. Is that because we are mass producing food and there's therefore more of an issue with contaminated food than in the past when we did everything more naturally, small scale and therefore cleaner? Or are we more focused on cleanliness than in the past which might be making people more susceptible to disease in the end?

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a...

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