Food Safety Food Manager

How Do You Identify and Avoid Unsafe Food Sources?

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Trust20 Contributors • 4 minute read

Choosing ingredients from safe and healthy food sources is essential if a foodservice business wants to maintain a good reputation–not to mention it is an important part of good health for the everyday consumer! Unfortunately, not all food sources can be trusted and not all food suppliers properly adhere to recommended safety guidelines.

Knowing how to identify and avoid unsafe food sources can help protect you and your customers from getting sick–and your business from facing the negative consequences that come from using contaminated ingredients.

Let’s dive a little deeper and discuss why it’s important to be aware of unsafe food sources, how to identify them, and how you can protect yourself and others. 

Potential Risks

Unsafe foods are any foods that contain bacteria or other forms of contamination that can make you ill if consumed. This can be anything from meat or fish that has spoiled to produce that was grown in contaminated soil or water. Bacteria such as salmonella, E. coli, listeria, norovirus, shigella, and hepatitis A can also cause contamination and can cause a number of serious illnesses. The FDA identifies these contaminants as the “Big 6” most common causes of foodborne illness.  

The CDC estimates that 48 million people are affected by foodborne illness each year. It is a common misconception that getting “food poisoning” isn’t a big deal–but there are thousands of hospitalizations and deaths each year. Unsafe foods are particularly dangerous for children and anyone with a weakened immune system.

Not only can you and your customers get sick, but the reputation of your business can suffer. In fact, there may also be financial and legal consequences to deal with. One study revealed that a single outbreak can cost a business millions–sometimes more than they would make in one year! Taking preventative measures to avoid these risks and knowing how to spot unsafe food sources can save you and your operation from dealing with some major fallout. 

Identifying Unsafe Sources

There are a few ways you can identify foods that are potentially unsafe before they enter your establishment, but we should talk about food suppliers first. Always purchase foods from reputable suppliers who can provide proof of inspection that complies with local, state, and federal laws. Depending on the purchasing guidelines of your local jurisdiction, suppliers may be required to provide a Certificate of Analysis or a Certificate of Conformance.

Don't be afraid to ask your suppliers questions about their business practices–a trustworthy supplier should be prepared for your inquiries and any defensiveness should be taken as a red flag. You should only use ingredients from trustworthy suppliers because the effort you put into food safety won’t matter if your ingredients have been contaminated before you ever receive them. 

Receiving foods 

Before accepting a food delivery, it is important to do an initial inspection of the food items, the packaging, and the delivery vehicle to make sure that the food was transported under the right conditions. Having a trained eye in food safety can help to avoid receiving any food products that are unsafe to consume. If any food products don’t pass your inspection, don’t accept them because they may be contaminated.

Temperature sensitive foods should be packed in foam or heavy corrugated cardboard while being transported since these types of materials are good insulators. These foods, otherwise known as time-temperature control for safety foods, or TCS foods, include meat, fresh produce, eggs, and dairy products. They can quickly become unsafe to consume if not stored at the right temperature. You should immediately open packages of TCS foods and use a food thermometer to make sure all food items are below 41°F and frozen foods are below 0°F. These foods should be put away quickly using proper storage methods since they can become contaminated in as little as 20 minutes if they reach the temperature danger zone

As part of your inspection you should also look over the packaging of the food items to make sure there are no signs of physical damage to the packaging, that they were sealed properly, and there are no signs of spillage. The delivery vehicle should also be scanned to make sure there are no signs of a pest infestation.

You should always check the expiration date on any packaged food items before using them. Any food products past their expiration date should not be consumed because they have most likely begun to spoil and can have harmful bacteria or fungus inside of the package. Make sure to inspect temperature sensitive foods like meat or dairy products for signs of rotting before purchasing them. They may have started to spoil if you notice a discoloration or an unpleasant smell. Use your best judgment if something seems off about the product and remember that it is best not to risk it. 


Something else to be aware of is that all raw meats should be stored separately from other ingredients in order to prevent cross-contamination between items during the preparation and cooking processes. Cross-contamination occurs when bacteria from one item transfers onto another item from improper storage methods. More specifically, the best practices of food storage follows a top-to-bottom layout where the foods with the highest cooking temperatures are stored below foods with lower cooking temperatures.

This next bit may seem obvious but sometimes, overlooking the obvious can result in a food safety fail. It is important to always store food in containers that can be properly sealed to avoid any leaking or spills. For example, if you are choosing to use ingredients that have been stored next to a container of raw meat that was not properly sealed, those ingredients risk cross-contamination from the raw meat. This type of contamination is particularly dangerous due to bacteria like salmonella which can spread quickly if left unchecked.

Foodservice workers should be able to identify potentially unsafe food sources to help keep customers happy, well fed, and safe. Taking simple precautions like checking expiration dates, choosing trustworthy suppliers, knowing how to receive food deliveries, and proper storage methods will go a long way towards ensuring you and your customers’ safety when selecting foods for consumption.

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