Food Safety: What It Is, Why It Matters, and How to Stay Safe

by Joost Nusselder | Last Updated:  May 27, 2022

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Food safety is a crucial subject, particularly in regards to cooking and serving meals. It involves guaranteeing that food is safe to consume by eliminating harmful bacteria, viruses, and other pathogens that can cause illness. Additionally, it entails ensuring that food is prepared, stored, and transported correctly to prevent illness.

Throughout this article, I will describe what food safety is, how it impacts you, and how you can practice safe food handling in your everyday routine.

What is food safety

The Importance of Proper Food Handling and Storage

Food safety refers to the scientific discipline of handling, preparing, and storing food in ways that prevent food-borne illnesses. It involves controlling and preventing potential hazards at all stages of the food supply chain, from production to consumption. This includes internal food safety procedures, such as proper cooking and storing, as well as external factors, such as packaging and distribution.

What are the Potential Hazards?

There are many different types of hazards that can affect the integrity of food products, including biological, chemical, and radiological hazards. These hazards can arise at different junctures in the food cycle, from agriculture and production to packaging and finished products. Some of the critical points to follow to prevent these hazards include:

  • Proper cooking and temperature control
  • Preventing cross-contamination and segregation
  • Refrigeration and storing at the right temperature
  • Controlling and preventing hazards during processing and packaging

How to Prevent Foodborne Diseases?

Preventing foodborne diseases requires a combination of knowledge, good practices, and management procedures. Some of the key practices that can help prevent foodborne diseases include:

  • Following established food safety standards and legislation
  • Ensuring proper hygiene and sanitation practices
  • Properly storing and handling food products
  • Properly cooking and preparing food products
  • Segregating and controlling potential hazards during processing and packaging

What is the Role of Consumers?

Consumers also play a significant role in maintaining food safety. They need to know how to handle and store food products properly, as well as how to identify potential hazards. Consumers should ask questions about the food they eat and bring attention to any concerns they may have. By doing so, they can help protect themselves and others from the dangers of foodborne illnesses.

The Critical Importance of Food Safety

Food safety is not just a buzzword, it’s a critical aspect of our everyday lives. It affects the food we consume, the products we buy, and the companies we trust. The following points explain why food safety is so important:

  • Food safety is a primary concern for our bodies. Improper preparation, handling, and consumption of food can cause harm and make us sick.
  • Food safety is critical for companies providing food products and services. Proper food safety practices can protect a company’s reputation and bring obvious benefits to its customers.
  • Food safety is significant for the world’s supply chain. It requires companies to decide on the proper storage, processing, and delivery of foods and ingredients to maintain their quality and prevent harm.
  • Food safety is important for the environment. The production and consumption of food require energy and resources, and proper food safety practices can help sustain these needs.

The Potential Effects of Improper Food Safety

The potential effects of improper food safety can be extreme and far-reaching. Here are some examples:

  • According to data released by the World Health Organization, unsafe food causes more than 200 diseases, affecting millions of people worldwide.
  • Improper food safety practices can affect the performance of companies, resulting in heavy financial losses and damage to their reputation.
  • Improper food safety practices can harm the environment, affecting the quality of the air, water, and soil.

The Different Aspects of Food Safety

Food safety includes many different aspects, depending on the nature of the food product and the stage of production. Here are some of the different aspects of food safety:

  • Fresh produce and seafood require proper handling and storage to prevent contamination and spoilage.
  • Heavy machinery and equipment used in food production require proper maintenance and cleaning to prevent contamination.
  • Cooking and preparation of food products require critical attention to temperature and time to prevent harmful bacteria growth.
  • Different food products require different food safety practices, and it’s important to ask questions and follow guidelines to ensure proper food safety practices are applied.

Food Safety: What You Should Avoid Doing with Your Food

Raw food, especially meat and seafood, can be a breeding ground for bacteria. Here are some things to avoid when handling raw food:

  • Don’t let raw meat or seafood sit at room temperature for more than two hours.
  • Don’t use the same cutting board for raw meat and other foods.
  • Don’t wash raw meat or seafood before cooking it. This can spread bacteria to other surfaces.

Cooked Food Storage

Cooked food can also be a source of food poisoning if not stored properly. Here are some things to avoid when storing cooked food:

  • Don’t leave cooked food at room temperature for more than two hours.
  • Don’t store cooked food in cans that are bulging or leaking.
  • Don’t store cooked food in the fridge for more than three days. Discard or throw away any food that has been in the fridge for longer than that.

Dairy and Egg Products

Dairy and egg products can also be a source of food poisoning if not handled properly. Here are some things to avoid when handling dairy and egg products:

  • Don’t eat raw or undercooked eggs.
  • Don’t use dairy products that have been left out of the fridge for more than two hours.
  • Don’t use custard, mousse, or cheesecake that contains raw egg.

Fruit and Vegetable Handling

Fruits and vegetables can also be a source of food poisoning if not handled properly. Here are some things to avoid when handling fruits and vegetables:

  • Don’t eat fruits or vegetables that are past their expiration date.
  • Don’t eat fruits or vegetables that have been handled by someone who is sick.
  • Don’t eat fruits or vegetables that have been in contact with raw meat or seafood.

Leftovers and Takeout

Leftovers and takeout food can also be a source of food poisoning if not handled properly. Here are some things to avoid when handling leftovers and takeout food:

  • Don’t eat leftovers that have been in the fridge for more than three days.
  • Don’t eat takeout food that has been left out of the fridge for more than two hours.
  • Don’t eat takeout food that has been handled by someone who is sick.

Temperature Danger Zone

Food that is in the temperature danger zone (between 40°F and 140°F) can be a breeding ground for bacteria. Here are some things to avoid when it comes to the temperature danger zone:

  • Don’t leave food in the temperature danger zone for more than two hours.
  • Don’t cool food in large containers. Instead, divide it into smaller containers to cool faster.
  • Don’t reheat food in slow cookers or chafing dishes. Use a stove or microwave instead.

Food Safety: Keep Your Food Safe with These Simple Steps

Step 1: Clean

Keeping your food clean is the first step towards food safety. Here are some ways to keep your food clean:

  • Wash your hands with soap and warm water for at least 20 seconds before and after handling food.
  • Clean all surfaces and utensils that come into contact with food, including cutting boards, knives, and countertops.
  • Rinse fruits and vegetables thoroughly under running water before eating or cooking them.

Step 2: Separate

Cross-contamination is a major cause of food poisoning. To prevent it, follow these tips:

  • Keep raw meat, poultry, and seafood separate from other foods in your grocery cart and in your refrigerator.
  • Use separate cutting boards and utensils for raw meat, poultry, and seafood.
  • Never put cooked food on a plate that previously held raw meat, poultry, or seafood.

Step 3: Cook

Cooking food to the right temperature is essential to kill harmful bacteria. Here’s what you need to know:

  • Use a food thermometer to make sure that meat, poultry, and seafood are cooked to the right temperature.
  • Cook ground beef to an internal temperature of 160°F, poultry to 165°F, and fish to 145°F.
  • Reheat leftovers to at least 165°F.

Step 4: Chill

Bacteria can grow quickly at room temperature, so it’s important to chill food promptly. Follow these guidelines:

  • Refrigerate perishable foods within two hours of cooking or purchasing.
  • Keep your refrigerator at 40°F or below and your freezer at 0°F or below.
  • Thaw frozen food safely in the refrigerator, in cold water, or in the microwave.

By following these simple steps, you can help keep your food safe and prevent foodborne illness. Remember, food safety starts with you!

Restaurant Food Safety: Protecting Customers and Businesses

Restaurants are a conducive environment for bacterial growth, and there are numerous factors that can increase the risk of foodborne illness, such as:

  • Improper food handling and cooking
  • Holding food at the wrong temperature
  • Using potentially hazardous supplies and equipment
  • Cross-contamination between raw and cooked foods
  • Leftovers held at the wrong temperature
  • Chemical, physical, and microbiological hazards

The Steps Restaurants Must Take to Ensure Food Safety

To prevent these hazards and protect customers, restaurants must follow critical food safety practices, including:

  • Proper handwashing and glove use
  • Cooking food to the correct internal temperature
  • Holding hot foods above 140°F and cold foods below 40°F
  • Using separate cutting boards and utensils for raw and cooked foods
  • Cleaning and sanitizing all surfaces and equipment
  • Following the FDA Food Code and local health department regulations
  • Training employees on food safety practices

The Role of the National Restaurant Association and FSIS

The National Restaurant Association and the Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) have created numerous training activities and resources to help restaurants improve their food safety practices and reinforce the importance of food safety. These include:

  • The National Food Safety Month, created to heighten awareness of food safety in the industry
  • The ServSafe training program, which provides food safety training and certification
  • The FSIS Food Safety Education program, which educates the public on safe food handling practices


Food safety is the science of controlling the risks associated with the production and consumption of food. It’s important to remember to handle food properly, store it at the right temperature, and cook it properly to avoid foodborne illnesses. 
Food safety is a critical aspect of everyday lives, and it affects the food you eat. So, it’s important to know the right food safety practices to protect yourself from foodborne illnesses.

Joost Nusselder, the founder of Lakeside Smokers is a content marketer, dad and loves trying out new food with BBQ Smoking (& Japanese food!) at the heart of his passion, and together with his team he's been creating in-depth blog articles since 2016 to help loyal readers with recipes and cooking tips.