What Is Food Safety and Why Is It Important?

Medically Reviewed on 9/30/2021
what is food safety and why is it important
Food safety refers to handling, preparing, and storing food properly to prevent foodborne illnesses. Learn more about why food safety is important

Food safety describes all practices used to ensure food is kept safe at each stage of the food manufacturing chain, from harvesting, processing, storage, distribution, preparation, to consumption. From a household or consumer point of view, food safety means making sure food is handled, prepared, and stored properly to prevent foodborne illnesses.

The National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA) is dedicated to making sure food safety is regulated based on modern scientific principles. It extensively collaborates with other government agencies, private sector partners, universities and colleges, etc, to maintain the country’s food supply, prevent foodborne diseases, and educate all food handlers, including consumers.

Why is food safety important?

Access to safe and healthy food is a necessity for everyone. According to the World Health Organization, about 1 in 10 people fall ill each year due to consuming contaminated food. About 420,000 adults and 125,000 children (younger than 5 years old) die each year due to foodborne illnesses. 

Food safety also influences other important aspects related to food, such as nutrition and food supply:

  • Reduced risk of diseases and deaths caused by unsafe food consumption
  • Reduced burden of financial losses due to foodborne illnesses (such as typhoid, hepatitis A, diarrhea, and dysentery)
  • Ensuring uninterrupted food supply
  • Improved public health, thereby reducing the burden on the healthcare system
  • Reduced risk of chronic diseases caused by unhealthy food
  • Reduced risk of nutritional deficiencies
  • Improved economic stability throughout the food sector due to increased consumer confidence in the food supply of the United States
  • Reduced likelihood of extreme price hikes of food products
  • Reduced prevalence of hazardous food practices (such as the use of antibiotics or harmful chemicals in food production, processing, and storage) through regulatory practices and provision of healthier alternatives


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How to ensure food is safe for your family

Food safety for families occurs at four levels.

1. Buying

  • Buy fresh and clean food products
  • Check the label for the expiration date of packaged foods
  • Read the label for the nutritional value and ingredients of packaged foods
  • Do not buy foods (including meat, poultry, and fish) that smell or appear strange
  • Avoid buying unpasteurized dairy, juices, or ciders
  • Buy eggs that are clean, uncracked, and belong to grade A or AA
  • Avoid buying fruits with broken skin
  • Check for leaks, tears, or any defects in packaging

2. Storing

  • Store food products at the appropriate temperature
  • Keep meat, chicken, and fish in leak-proof, food-grade containers or bags
  • Keep raw and cooked foods separately

3. Cooking

  • Cook food in food-safe cooking vessels
  • Wash raw items properly before cooking
  • Wash hands with soap and water before cooking or preparing food
  • Use a separate cutting board for meat, poultry, and fish
  • Thaw frozen meat, poultry, and fish in the microwave (not at room temperature) and cook immediately
  • Cook food at sufficient temperature and time to kill any germs 
  • Keep storage containers, refrigerator, and cooking areas clean and sanitized

4. Consuming

  • Serve food on clean plates and bowls
  • Wash hands with soap and water before eating, or use a hand sanitizer with at least 60% alcohol if soap and water are not available
  • When eating out or at a new place, avoid consuming food that looks or smells strange or is served on unclean plates or bowls

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Medically Reviewed on 9/30/2021
National Institute of Food and Agriculture. Food Safety. https://nifa.usda.gov/topic/food-safety

World Health Organization. Food Safety. https://www.who.int/news-room/fact-sheets/detail/food-safety