plant food

Potentially Hazardous Food

Potentially Hazardous Food is a term used by food safety organizations to classify foods that require time-temperature control to keep them safe for human consumption. A PHF is a food that:

  • Contains moisture - usually regarded as a water activity greater than 0.85
  • Contains protein
  • Is neutral to slightly acidic - typically having a pH between 4.6 and 7.5

The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) Food Code identifies the following examples of PHF's:

  • Meat (beef, pork, lamb)
  • Poultry (chicken, turkey, duck)
  • Fish
  • Shellfish and crustaceans
  • Eggs (except those treated to eliminate Salmonella)
  • Milk and dairy products
  • Heat-treated plant food (cooked rice, beans, or vegetables)
  • Baked potatoes
  • Certain synthetic ingredients
  • Mushrooms
  • Raw sprouts
  • Tofu and soy-protein foods
  • Untreated garlic and oil mixtures

Since these foods can harbor pathogenic microorganisms and permit their growth or the production of toxins, special care must be taken to keep them out of the temperature danger zone for as long as possible. Time is another factor that can be controlled to minimize the chances of pathogenic outbreaks. Things such as salts, sugars, and brine solutions can be used to alter the moisture or acidity of PHF's to make them more shelf stable and were especially popular prior to refrigeration technology. A HACCP is a more modern approach to food safety in PHF's, especially as they relate to the food service industry.

In Australia, Food Standards Australia New Zealand (FSANZ) defines potentially hazardous food to mean food that has to be kept at certain temperatures to minimize the growth of any pathogenic microorganisms that may be present in the food or to prevent the formation of toxins in the food.

Under Australian regulations, the following are examples of potentially hazardous foods:

  • Raw and cooked meat or foods containing meat, such as casseroles, curries and lasagne;
  • Dairy products, for example, milk, custard and dairy based desserts;
  • Seafood (excluding live seafood);
  • Processed fruits and vegetables, for example, salads;
  • Cooked rice and pasta;
  • Foods containing eggs, beans, nuts or other protein rich foods, such as quiche and soy products;
  • Foods that contain these foods, such as sandwiches and rolls.
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