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Aug. 18, 2006

Food Safety Language: What Food Testing Industry Terms and Acronyms Mean

The challenges facing the food industry in maintaining proper food safety protocol are enormous and continuous 365 days of the year. As a result, food industry personnel who are responsible for their food safety quality assurance or quality control, are likely to be in constant communication with representatives of an analytical laboratory.

One of the most common barriers in the exchange of communication in any industry is the interpretation of terms and acronyms that are specific to a particular industry. The food safety industry is not immune to this issue. As a result of different interpretations of food safety language, solutions to potential food safety problems can be delayed or unresolved, possibly leading to larger, more significant problems.

In order to create more clear channels of communication in the food safety industry, a Food Safety Glossary, which contains some of the most commonly used terms and acronyms in the industry, is provided below. The terms and acronyms are listed alphabetically.

APC (Aerobic Plate Count)

Total bacteria. APC is intended to indicate product quality and the level of microorganism in a product.


Substance added to food to prevent the oxygen present in the air from causing undesirable changes in flavor color.


Living single-cell organisms that are carried by water, wind, insects, plants, animals, and people and survive on skin, clothes and human hair. Although bacteria are causes of disease, certain types are beneficial for all types of living matter.


A rare, but serious paralytic illness caused by a nerve toxin that is produced by the bacterium Clostridium botulinum. One of the main kinds is foodborne botulism, caused by eating foods that contain the botulism toxin.


A bacterium that is commonly found in the intestinal tracts of cats, dogs, poultry, cattle, swine, rodents, monkeys, wild birds, and some humans. The bacteria pass into the environment and are also present in untreated water. From a food safety perspective, Campylobacter is found in poultry products.

Clostridium botulinum

The name of a group of bacteria commonly found in soil. It is the bacterium that produces the nerve toxin that causes botulism. Clostridium botulinum is found in canned vegetables.


Bacilli (aerobic bacteria) that commonly inhabit the intestines of humans and other vertebrates. Coliform is an indicator of product quality and safety.   


The transfer of harmful substances or disease-causing microorganisms to food by hands, food-contact surfaces, sponges, cloth towels and utensils that touch raw food, are not cleaned, and then touch ready-to-eat foods.


A group of chemical compounds that share certain similar chemical structures and biological characteristics. Within animals, dioxins tend to accumulate in fat. Dioxins may cause a number of adverse health effects.

E. coli (Escherichia Coli)

One of the main species of bacteria that live in the lower intestines of warm-blooded animals (including birds and mammals) and are necessary for the proper digestion of food. Its presence in groundwater is an indicator of fecal contamination. Certain strains of E. coli are toxigenic and can cause food-poisoning (usually associated with eating contaminated meat). E. coli is an indicator of product quality and safety.

E. coli O157:H7 (Escherichia Coli O157:H7)

A bacterium that lives harmlessly in the intestines of animals such as cattle, reptiles, and birds. In humans, the bacterium can be transmitted by foods, animal contact and drinking water. Symptoms can include bloody diarrhea and also lead to hemolytic uremic syndrome (HUS), a life-threatening disease. E. coli O157:H7 is found in ground beef and unpasteurized juice products. As part of the HACCP rule, all meat and poultry slaughter plants are required to test carcasses regularly for generic E. coli in order to verify that their sanitary systems are effectively controlling fecal contamination.

Foodborne Illnesses

Illnesses caused by pathogens that enter the human body through food.

Foodborne Outbreak

The occurrence of two or more people experiencing the same illness after eating the same food.

Foodborne Pathogens

Disease-causing microorganisms found in food, usually bacteria, fungi, parasites, protozoans, and viruses. The most common pathogens are: Salmonella; Staphylococcus Aureus; Campylobacter jejuni, Yersinia enerocolitica; Listeria monocytogenes, Vibro cholerae non-01; Vibrio Parahemolyticus; Bacillus cereus; Escherichia coli – enteropathogenic; and Shigella. Many of these pathogens may be found in contaminated meat, poultry, shell eggs, dairy products, and seafood.

Food Service Sanitation Inspections

A third-party review of food safety practices at facilities where food is prepared or manufactured.

HACCP (Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Points)

A production quality control system now being adopted throughout much of the food industry as a method for minimizing the entry of foodborne pathogens into the food supply in order to protect human health. Potential hazards and risks are identified and critical control points for preventing hazards are identified and monitored, and corrective actions are implemented. HACCP is one of the major elements of regulations issued by the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) and the Food and Drug Administration (FDA).

ISO Accreditation

Accreditation by the International Organization for Standardization (ISO), which develops international agreements on standards for various industries.


A term used only on the labels of meat and poultry products prepared under rabbinical supervision.


Also known as lactic acid bacteria. The production of lactic acid promotes the growth of some harmful bacteria. Lactobacillus is found in salad dressings and vacuum packaged products.


Listeria monocytogenes, a pathogenic bacterium that can be present in dairy products, red meat, seafood, vegetables, deli salads and poultry.

Microbial Challenge Studies

The process of evaluating risks associated with new product introductions, as well as wherever product formulation, processing, handling and distribution changes are made.


Mold is found in sauces, dressings, beverages, and dairy products.

MSG (Monosodium Glutamate)

A flavor enhancer, it comes from glutamic acid, and must be listed on meat and poultry labels.

Nutritional Labeling

Labels identifying the nutritional components of a food product.

OSHA (Occupational Safety and Health Administration)

The agency responsible for administering the Occupational Safety and Health Act.


The term used to distinguish “natural” products or processes from man-made “synthesis” ones. From a chemistry standpoint, organic is a compound or molecule containing carbon bound to hydrogen.

Organic Foods

Food Products produced by organic farming practices and processed under organic manufacturing processes.


Organisms that are nourished and protected from other living organisms known as hosts. Some parasites are causes of foodborne and waterborne disease. These organisms, which are often excreted in feces, live and reproduce within the tissues and organs of infected human and animal hosts.


The process of destroying microorganisms that could result in disease.


Bacteria, parasites, viruses or fungi that are infectious and cause disease.


Food that is vulnerable to decay, spoilage or bacteria unless it is properly refrigerated or frozen.


A substance used to kill, control or repel any pest. Examples of pesticides are insecticides, fungicides, rodenticides, herbicides and germicides.

Plant Inspections

The process of inspecting food manufacturing plants for Good Manufacturing Practices (GMP's) and evaluating existing plant quality assurance, HACCP, and sanitation practices to determine potential trouble spots and to help ensure high quality and safe products.


Pathogenic bacteria found in fresh meats, poultry, and fish.

Qualitative Analysis

Testing process that measures a substance and reports the results in terms of the presence or absence of particular components. An example is testing for the presence of the pathogen Listeria monocytogenes in a specific food.

Quantitative Analysis

Testing process that measures a substance and reports the results as the numerical value of each of its components. An example is testing for the amount of E. coli in a food.


Oxidation or breakdown of fat that occurs naturally, causing undesirable smell and taste.


Food that is edible without washing, cooking or additional preparation.


Any substance remaining in livestock during or after slaughter that occurs as a result of exposure to a pesticide, organic or inorganic compound, hormone, growth promoter, antibiotic, anthelmintic, tranquilizer or other therapeutic or prophylactic agent.


A pathogen that produces diarrhea bacterium that is the leading cause of human foodborne illness among intestinal pathogens. Salmonella is most-commonly found in raw meats, poultry, vegetables, and dairy products.


A bacterium carried only by humans that causes diarrheal illnesses. Poor hygiene, in particular poor hand-washing, causes Shigella to be passed among humans via food.

Staphylococcus aureus (Staph)

A bacteria frequently living in the skin or nose of a healthy person that can cause illness. Staphylococcus aureus is found in deli salads and processed meat and poultry.

Shelf-life Studies

A shelf-life study is the process of evaluating the shelf-life of food ingredients and finished products under various conditions for maximum product safety and quality.


A poisonous substance that may be found in food.

Trans Fat

An unhealthy substance, also known as trans fatty acid, made through the chemical process of hydrogenation of oils. Hydrogenation solidifies liquid oils and increases the shelf life and the flavor stability of oils and foods that contain them. Trans fat is found in vegetable shortenings and in some margarines, crackers, cookies, snack foods and other foods. FDA regulations require the trans fat to be listed on food nutrition labels directly under the line for saturated fats.

Vendor Quality Audits

The process of qualifying vendors to improve the monitoring of food ingredient quality and the products that a company purchases.


A bacteria, some of which are associated with diarrheal disease. Vibrio is found in fish and seafood.


A group of single-celled fungi. A few yeasts, such as Candida albicans, can cause infections in humans. Yeast is found in sauces, dressings, beverages, and dairy products.

Yersinia enterocolita

A pathogen that causes yersiniosis, a disease characterized by diarrhea and/or vomiting. Yersinia is found in raw meat, seafood, dairy products, produce and untreated water.


  1. United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS Web site)
  3. Medicine
  4. Microbac Laboratories, Inc.