The Most Difficult Food Hazard to Control: Identifying the Elusive Culprit

Choose the food hazard you think is the most difficult!

Author: Gregor Krambs
Jun 16, 2023 10:18 (Updated on Dec 3, 2023 06:27)
Welcome to StrawPoll, your one-stop destination for discovering the most intriguing and mind-boggling polls that spark curiosity and ignite conversations! Today, we present to you an epic ranking that will test your food safety knowledge: "What is the most difficult food hazard to control?" As you know, keeping our food safe is essential, and some hazards are trickier to manage than others. So, we've gathered the most challenging food hazards to control and now it's time for you, dear food connoisseur, to vote on which one takes the cake! Will it be cross-contamination, allergens, or something more sinister lurking in our kitchens? Don't forget, you can also suggest a missing option if you think we've overlooked a worthy contender. Join us in this gastronomic showdown and let's explore the depths of food hazards together. Remember, every vote counts – so let the battle begin and may the most difficult hazard emerge victorious!

What Is the Most Difficult Food Hazard to Control?

  1. 1
    Listeria monocytogenes
    Elizabeth White · Public domain
    This bacterium can survive in a wide range of temperatures and pH levels, making it difficult to control. It is also able to grow in refrigerated environments, which increases its potential for causing foodborne illness.
    Listeria monocytogenes is a bacterium that can cause a serious foodborne illness called listeriosis. It is commonly found in soil, water, plants, and the digestive tract of animals. Listeria monocytogenes can contaminate a wide range of food products, including raw and processed meats and seafood, unpasteurized dairy products, fruits, vegetables, and ready-to-eat foods. The bacterium can survive and grow in refrigerated temperatures, making it a particularly challenging food hazard to control.
    • Pathogenicity: Listeria monocytogenes is pathogenic and can cause severe illness, especially in high-risk individuals such as pregnant women, newborns, the elderly, and those with weakened immune systems.
    • High fatality rate: Listeriosis has a high fatality rate, estimated to be around 20-30%.
    • Wide host range: Listeria monocytogenes can infect a wide range of animals, including humans, cattle, poultry, fish, and insects.
    • Resistant to low temperatures: Listeria monocytogenes can survive and grow at refrigerated temperatures, making it a challenge to control in refrigerated and processed foods.
    • Biofilm formation: Listeria monocytogenes has the ability to form biofilms on both living and non-living surfaces, which can enhance its survival and resistance to cleaning and sanitizing agents.
  2. 2
    Clostridium botulinum
    Content Providers: CDC · Public domain

    Clostridium botulinum

    Emil Pierre van Ermengem
    This bacterium produces a deadly toxin that can cause paralysis and death. It is found in soil and water and can contaminate food that is improperly canned or preserved.
    Clostridium botulinum is a bacterium that produces a potent neurotoxin known as botulinum toxin. This toxin is the cause of botulism, a severe and potentially fatal form of food poisoning. Clostridium botulinum is a spore-forming bacterium commonly found in soil and aquatic environments, and it can survive in various conditions, including low-oxygen and low-acid environments. The bacterium grows and produces toxin in an anaerobic (oxygen-starved) environment, typically in improperly processed canned foods or other foods that have been contaminated by the bacterium or its spores.
    • Toxin type: There are seven types of botulinum toxin, labeled A to G. Types A, B, E, and, rarely, F are associated with human botulism.
    • Heat stability: The toxin produced by Clostridium botulinum is heat-labile, meaning it can be destroyed by proper heating during food processing.
    • Symptoms: Botulism symptoms may include muscle weakness, difficulty swallowing and speaking, blurred vision, paralysis, and potentially respiratory failure.
    • Neurotoxin action: Botulinum toxin blocks the release of neurotransmitters, leading to a flaccid paralysis of affected muscles.
    • Food sources: Contamination can occur in various foods, particularly in improperly processed low-acid canned goods, home-canned foods, and certain fermented or vacuum-packed products.
  3. 3
    This bacterium is commonly found in poultry, eggs, and raw meat, but can also be present in other types of food. It is resistant to many disinfectants and can survive for long periods in dry environments.
    Salmonella is a type of bacteria that causes salmonellosis, a common foodborne illness. It is named after Daniel Elmer Salmon, an American veterinary surgeon who first identified the bacteria in 1885.
    • Type: Bacteria
    • Illness caused: Salmonellosis
    • Transmitted through: Contaminated food and water, contact with infected animals
    • Symptoms: Diarrhea, abdominal cramps, fever, vomiting
    • Incubation period: 12-72 hours
  4. 4
    This bacterium is found in the intestines of animals and can contaminate food during processing. It can cause serious illness and even death in humans.
    Escherichia coli (E. coli) is a type of bacterium commonly found in the intestines of humans and animals. While most strains of E. coli are harmless and even beneficial, some strains can cause severe illness and even death when contaminated food is consumed. The most well-known pathogenic strain is called Shiga toxin-producing E. coli (STEC), which includes the serotype O157:H7.
    • Serotype: O157:H7 is the most common and well-known serotype associated with severe illness.
    • Transmission: E. coli can be transmitted through contaminated food and water, person-to-person contact, and contact with animals or their environments.
    • Symptoms: Infection with pathogenic E. coli can cause symptoms such as diarrhea (often bloody), abdominal cramps, vomiting, and fever.
    • Severity: Severe cases of E. coli infection can lead to hemolytic uremic syndrome (HUS), a life-threatening condition that can cause kidney failure.
    • Food Sources: Common food sources of E. coli contamination include undercooked ground beef, raw vegetables, unpasteurized milk, and contaminated water.
  5. 5
    This bacterium is commonly found in raw poultry and can cause severe diarrhea and other gastrointestinal symptoms. It is difficult to control because it can survive in a wide range of temperatures and pH levels.
    Campylobacter is a genus of Gram-negative bacteria that are one of the most common causes of foodborne illness worldwide. They are curved or spiral-shaped with a single polar flagellum, enabling them to move actively. Campylobacter infections primarily affect the gastrointestinal system, causing symptoms such as diarrhea, abdominal pain, fever, and vomiting.
    • Genus: Campylobacter
    • Gram Stain: Negative
    • Shape: Curved or spiral-shaped
    • Motility: Motile, with a single polar flagellum
    • Habitat: Commonly found in the intestinal tracts of animals, birds, and humans
  6. 6
    This virus can cause severe gastrointestinal symptoms and is highly contagious. It is often spread through contaminated food and water, and can survive in the environment for long periods.
    Norovirus is a highly infectious virus that can cause acute gastroenteritis and is commonly associated with outbreaks of foodborne illnesses. It belongs to the Caliciviridae family and is one of the most common causes of viral gastroenteritis worldwide. Norovirus can spread easily through contaminated food and water, as well as from person to person.
    • Transmission Route: Contaminated food, water, and direct person-to-person contact
    • Incubation Period: 12-48 hours
    • Symptoms: Nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, stomach cramps, and occasionally fever
    • Duration of Illness: 1-3 days
    • Viral Load: High, with a small number of viral particles capable of causing infection
  7. 7

    Hepatitis A

    Hepatitis A virus (HAV)
    This virus can cause liver disease and is often spread through contaminated food and water. It is particularly difficult to control because infected individuals may not show symptoms for several weeks.
    Hepatitis A is a highly contagious viral infection that affects the liver. It is transmitted through the consumption of food or water contaminated with the feces of an infected person. The virus can survive in the environment for months and can withstand low temperatures, allowing it to spread easily through food and water supplies.
    • Incubation Period: 15-50 days
    • Symptoms: Fever, fatigue, loss of appetite, nausea, vomiting, abdominal pain, dark urine, jaundice
    • Transmission Routes: Contaminated food, water, or objects; close personal contact with an infected person
    • Duration of Illness: Several weeks to several months
    • Vaccine Availability: Yes
  8. 8

    Vibrio cholerae

    Filippo Pacini
    This bacterium is responsible for cholera, a severe diarrheal disease that can be fatal if left untreated. It is found in contaminated water and can spread through contaminated food.
    Vibrio cholerae is a type of bacterium that causes the infectious disease known as cholera. It is a gram-negative, curved, rod-shaped bacteria typically found in contaminated water or food sources.
    • Shape: Curved rod-shaped
    • Gram Stain: Negative
    • Motility: Flagellated
    • Oxygen Requirement: Facultative anaerobe
    • Genus: Vibrio
    Vibrio cholerae in other rankings
  9. 9
    This bacterium can produce toxins that cause food poisoning. It is commonly found in rice dishes and other starchy foods, and can survive in a wide range of temperatures.
    Bacillus cereus is a type of bacteria that can cause foodborne illness. It is commonly found in soil and vegetation. The bacteria produce spores that can survive under harsh conditions, including high temperatures and low moisture levels. When contaminated food is consumed, these bacteria can produce toxins that cause illness. The symptoms of Bacillus cereus food poisoning include nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea. Proper food handling and hygiene practices are necessary to prevent the growth of Bacillus cereus and the production of toxins.
    • Spore formation: Bacillus cereus can form spores, which can survive cooking and food processing methods.
    • Temperature sensitivity: It can grow at temperatures ranging from 10°C to 50°C (50°F to 122°F).
    • Toxin production: The bacteria can produce two different toxins, cereulide and enterotoxins, that cause food poisoning.
    • Food sources: Bacillus cereus is commonly associated with rice, pasta, cooked vegetables, and other starchy or low-acidity foods.
    • Incubation period: Symptoms usually appear within 6 to 15 hours after consuming contaminated food.
  10. 10
    This bacterium can produce toxins that cause food poisoning. It is commonly found on human skin and can be transferred to food during handling.
    Staphylococcus aureus is a gram-positive bacterium that commonly colonizes the skin and mucous membranes. It is a pathogenic bacteria known to cause a wide range of infections, including skin and soft tissue infections, pneumonia, bone and joint infections, and bloodstream infections. Some strains of Staphylococcus aureus are antibiotic-resistant, such as methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA), making them particularly difficult to treat.
    • Gram Stain: Positive
    • Shape: Cocci (spherical)
    • Arrangement: Clustered, grape-like clusters
    • Motility: Non-motile
    • Oxygen Requirement: Facultative anaerobe
    Staphylococcus aureus in other rankings

Missing your favorite food hazard?


Ranking factors for difficult food hazard

  1. Type of hazard
    Consider whether the hazard is biological (e.g., foodborne pathogens, such as bacteria, viruses, fungi, or parasites), chemical (e.g., toxins, allergens, or contaminants), or physical (e.g., foreign objects).
  2. Frequency of occurrence
    Some hazards may be more common than others, depending on factors such as the food type, production methods, and environmental conditions.
  3. Severity of the hazard
    Consider the potential consequences of the hazard to public health, including the risk of illness or injury, as well as its potential to cause severe or long-lasting effects.
  4. Vulnerability of the population
    Certain groups, such as young children, elderly individuals, pregnant women, and people with weakened immune systems, may be more susceptible to specific hazards.
  5. Preventiveness
    Some hazards are easier to control or eliminate than others, depending on the availability and effectiveness of preventative measures (e.g., proper food handling and preparation practices, sanitation, and the use of technological interventions).
  6. Detectability
    Some hazards can be easily detected and identified before they pose a significant risk to consumers, while others may be difficult or impossible to detect without specialized testing equipment or methods.
  7. Control measures
    Consider the availability, feasibility, and effectiveness of various control measures to prevent or reduce the presence of the hazard in foods, such as facility design, good manufacturing practices (GMPs), temperature control, and monitoring systems.
  8. Cost of control
    Some control measures may be more costly or resource-intensive to implement and maintain than others, which can impact the feasibility and efficacy of controlling specific hazards.
  9. Consumer perception and behavior
    Consumer awareness, expectations, and behaviors related to food safety can influence the success of efforts to control food hazards. Public education and communication can play a critical role in helping to ensure that consumers understand and adhere to safe food handling and preparation practices.

About this ranking

This is a community-based ranking of the most difficult food hazard to control. We do our best to provide fair voting, but it is not intended to be exhaustive. So if you notice something or food hazard is missing, feel free to help improve the ranking!


  • 177 votes
  • 10 ranked items

Voting Rules

A participant may cast an up or down vote for each food hazard once every 24 hours. The rank of each food hazard is then calculated from the weighted sum of all up and down votes.


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More information on most difficult food hazard to control

Food safety is a major concern in the food industry. With the increasing demand for various types of food, the risk of food hazards also increases. Food hazards are anything that can cause harm to consumers if consumed. Some of the common food hazards include biological, chemical, and physical hazards. Biological hazards are caused by microorganisms such as bacteria, viruses, and parasites. These can cause foodborne illnesses such as salmonella, E. coli, and norovirus. Chemical hazards are caused by chemical substances such as pesticides, food additives, and cleaning agents. These can cause poisoning or allergic reactions. Physical hazards are caused by foreign objects such as glass, metal, or plastic fragments that can get into the food during processing or packaging. These can cause injuries such as cuts or choking. Controlling food hazards is crucial to ensure food safety. However, some hazards are more difficult to control than others. For example, biological hazards can be difficult to control because microorganisms can grow rapidly in food if not stored or cooked properly. Chemical hazards can be challenging to control because some chemicals may not be detected easily, and physical hazards can be difficult to control due to the complexity of the food production process. In this article, we will explore the most difficult food hazard to control and the measures that can be taken to minimize the risk of foodborne illnesses.

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