by Trish Tripp, CFSA Local Produce Safety Manager 

In order to understand a risk assessment, one must understand the concept of a risk itself. In farming, the most common food contamination hazards come from four sources: water, waste, wildlife, and workers. Risk assessments are conducted within an operation to identify potential food safety hazards. Any potential hazards identified must be addressed, through preventive or corrective action, to minimize the risk of occurrence and cross contamination.

In the case of food production and public health, a risk may be defined as the likelihood of a hazard contaminating a food item. Hazards are classified as biological, chemical or physical contaminants, unintentionally added in or on food, which may have adverse health effects. Specific examples of these hazards are described in below.

Potential Food Hazards by Category

Biological Chemical Physical
Humans Pesticide Glass
Wildlife Antimicrobial Residue Metal
Rodents Oil/fuel Rocks
Microorganisms Cleaning Chemicals Wood


A risk assessment is the most important element of a food safety program. A food safety program is developed based on the risk of specific hazards identified on a specific farm or food operation. It involves a review of the entire farm and operational practices. A risk assessment should be conducted:

  • On an annual basis, at a minimum.
  • When changes to processes or procedures occur. For example, a new high-risk crop may be added, such as leafy greens.
  • Before harvesting a crop.
  • When an incident occurs causing injury or harm on the farm.

Often it is difficult to identify hazards on the farm, simply because it is a way of life, or a process that been in place for many years. Many practices on a farm were not identified as a risky prior to an illness or injury occurring from this process.

Some examples of common hazards on a farm are:

  • Water: Water is the number one source of contamination on a farm. In order to reduce the risk of potential cross-contamination from a water source, the best practice is to not let any water come into contact with the edible portion of the crop. If water is used postharvest for washing or hydro-cooling, the best practice is to use a sanitizer in the water to ensure the potability of the water. Potability means that the water is free of generic E.coli and Total Coliforms.
  • Damp Spaces: Produce is sometimes stored in damp places creating an optimal environment for pathogens to thrive. Cold storage is a typical area for the pathogen Listeria spp. to grow due to the temperatures and moist environment.
  • Chemicals: Pesticides, herbicides, and sanitizers are commonly used on the farm and can cause injuries to humans if not applied properly, using the label instructions, and approved for the intended use.
  • Vehicles and Equipment: Oil and non-food grade lubricants can leak out of vehicles and equipment and become a source of cross-contamination, especially when used within the production areas where produce is being harvested.
  • Broken Glass: Glass can get into packed produce from a broken light bulb above a packing line or storage area. Neon bulbs may be covered with a protective plastic sheath.

These are a few of many potential hazards that will need to be addressed on the farm. Each farm is different and therefore has different types and levels of risk to take into consideration.

If a risk is not identified within an operation, then there is no need to implement a policy or procedure to mitigate these risks as part of your food safety program. Any high risks identified during a risk assessment are the risks that should be addressed upon identification. Typically, there are very minor changes that will need to be made as part of your preventive or correct action to reduce the likelihood or severity of the identified risk. The overall aim is to reduce or remove the risk to an acceptable level keeping public health in the forefront.

Want to learn more? See our guide on Risk Assessment Terminology.

And if you would like for CFSA to conduct a risk assessment on your farm, apply for a one-on-one consultation.



Reach out to Trish Tripp, Local Produce Safety Manager via email or at (919) 542-2402