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Food Safety vs Food Quality

In this lesson, students will explore the importance of food labels, including the difference between 'best before' and 'use by'. This lesson will also touch upon the growing concern of food waste and what we can do to reduce our waste.

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Learning objectives
All students will:
  • To understand types of food labels and why these are important
  • To understand the difference between food safety and food quality
  • To understand how to store and use different types of food
  • To understand consequences of not following food labels properly
Background Information

Food can contain useful and harmful microbes, as well as those associated with food spoilage. It is harmful microbes that can be associated with foodborne illness or ‘food poisoning’. The top five foodborne microbes in Europe account for about 70% of the health burdens related to foodborne illness and these include; Norovirus, Toxoplasma gondii, Campylobacter jejuni, Campylobacter coli. Salmonella enterica, and Listeria monocytogenes. Other microbes such as Bacillus cereus and Escherichia coli have also been associated with serious cases of foodborne illness.

These microbes can be found in raw meats, in eggs without a British Lion mark or equivalent quality marking outside of the UK, some dairy products, on the surface of fruits and vegetables, in dried food like pasta and rice or in ready to eat foods such as sandwiches and desserts.

Symptoms can include diarrhoea, stomach cramps, fever and vomiting and some foodborne illness may even result in death – though this is rare. The symptoms of foodborne illness usually start within a few days of eating the food that caused the infection and can usually be treated at home with rest and fluids.

Not all microbes associated with food are harmful. Useful microbes can be used to make food and drink, e.g., the yeast Saccharomyces cerevisae is used to make bread and beer. Lactobacilli bacteria are used in yoghurt and cheese making.

There are important steps you can take to prevent foodborne illness and spoilage that apply at all stages in the journey of food, from the shop to our plates:

  1. Keep clean: maintaining hand and surface hygiene is the best way for avoiding foodborne microbes entering our food
  2. Maintain the cold chain: keeping food in the fridge or freezer slows the growth of bacteria but does not stop it. Minimise the time food spends outside of the fridge or freezer
  3. Prevent cross-contamination: preventing harmful microbes found on food from spreading to other foods (for example via our hands or kitchen utensils) and causing illness when those foods are eaten
  4. Cook food such as meat thoroughly
  5. Follow the advice on labels: labels placed on foods are used to determine when it is safe to eat the food, or when the quality of the food is at its best
Main activity:
  • An interactive quiz on food quality and safety
Extension activities:
  • Making a pie chart to display data from a class vote
  • Answering questions on EU data
  • Videos on food date labels and food waste
  • Supporting worksheets
Curriculum links


  • Health and prevention
  • Healthy eating

Supporting Materials
Teacher sheets
Food safety vs food quality teacher guidance
Student worksheets
SW1 Food safety vs food quality
SW2 Food safety vs food quality
SW1 Food safety vs food quality - answers


This resource was developed through the SafeConsume project, and funded by the European Union's Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme under grant agreement No 727580. Find out more about our partnerships on the Collaborating Projects page.

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