Food Safety Glossary

Resource Library

The following food safety glossary has some common terms associated with foodborne illness:


Living single-celled organisms. They can be carried by water, wind, insects, plants, animals, and people. Bacteria survive well on skin and clothes and in human hair. They also thrive in scabs, scars, the mouth, nose, throat, intestines, and room-temperature foods.

Biological hazard

Refers to the danger of food contamination by disease-causing microorganisms (bacteria, viruses, parasites, or fungi) and their toxins and by certain plants and fish that carry natural toxins.


The unintended presence of potentially harmful substances, including microorganisms in food.


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. Cross-contamination can also occur when raw food touches or drips onto cooked or ready-to-eat foods.

Foodborne illness

A disease that is carried or transmitted to humans by food containing harmful substances. Examples are the disease salmonellosis, which is caused by Salmonella bacteria and the disease botulism, which is caused by the toxin produced by the bacteria Clostridium botulinum.

Food contact surface

Any equipment or utensil that normally comes in contact with food or that may drain, drip, or splash on food or on surfaces normally in contact with food. Examples: cutting boards, knives, sponges, countertops, and colanders.


A group of microorganisms that includes molds and yeasts.


The number of new cases of foodborne illness in a given population during a specified period (e.g., the number of new cases per 100,000 population per year).


A small life form, seen only through a microscope, that may cause disease. Examples: bacteria, fungi, parasites, or viruses.


An incident in which two or more people experience the same illness after eating the same food.


A microorganism that needs a host to survive. Examples: Cryptosporidium, Toxoplasma.


A microorganism that is infectious and causes disease.


A thick-walled protective structure produced by certain bacteria and fungi to protect their cells. Spores often survive cooking, freezing, and some sanitizing measures.


Poisons that are produced by microorganisms, carried by fish or released by plants. Examples: Botulism caused by the toxin from Clostridium botulinum, scombroid poisoning from the naturally occurring scombroid toxin in some improperly refrigerated fish, such as mackerel and tuna.


A protein-wrapped genetic material which is the smallest and simplest life-form known. Example: Norovirus, hepatitis A.