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Keeping Food Safe on Earth and in Space

Difficulty: Moderate

Duration: 85 minutes

Materials: Minimal

Download the PDF version (780 KB)


What is food safety?

Food safety is the practice and conditions of handling the preparation and storage of food to preserve its quality and prevent contamination and foodborne illnesses.

Foodborne illness (commonly known as food poisoning)

an illness transmitted to human beings through food and water, caused by either an infectious agent (foodborne infection) or a poisonous substance (food intoxication).

Food can be contaminated with bacteria or physical contaminants throughout the food production chain.

Food production chain

Contamination can occur at any step of the food production chain, so farmers, factory workers, retail chains, and consumers must take precautions to avoid contamination and to thoroughly wash or cook food to destroy pathogenic (illness-causing) bacteria.

What is food processing?

This term refers to the steps undertaken to alter a food item. This can include changes in order to extend the shelf life and reduce foodborne illness by using ingredients, packaging, temperature, humidity, or pressure. Some of these steps can include:

To help prevent contamination from occurring at the processing step, many factories use hazard analysis and critical control points (HACCP).

HACCP is a food safety management system which aims to prevent contamination by identifying possible hazards or points where contamination could occur during food production and processing and by creating critical points where the risks are specifically controlled.

How is HACCP related to space?

NASA created HACCP in the 1960s specifically for the space food program. They had to ensure that the food provided would not cause foodborne illness. The HACCP system mitigated foodborne illness risks throughout the life cycle of space food—ingredient procurement, transportation, packaging, and storage. HACCP is now implemented as a food safety standard in food production and processing across Canada and the United States.

Common routes of contamination

Production: During food production and harvest, food can be contaminated via contaminated irrigation water, manure, farm workers with improper hygiene, wildlife, and bacteria internalized in the plants.

Processing: Unsanitary factory equipment, dust particles, insects, factory workers who are sick or have improper hygiene, improper storage conditions, improper temperature control in the factory.

Distribution: Improper temperature control during transportation, sick workers handling produce, improper storage.

Preparation: Improper storage of products in the fridge such as raw meat on a shelf above fresh produce, cutting board cross-contamination, improper hygiene and hand washing, and meat not being cooked to safe internal temperatures.

If produce is contaminated, it is a higher risk than meat products because many types of produce are not cooked, whereas meat products can be cooked at a high temperature which would reduce the risk of foodborne illness.

Cooking foods at a high temperature can destroy heat-sensitive bacteria such as E. coli, Salmonella, and Listeria monocytogenes. Foods should be cooked to the following safe internal temperatures:

Anybody handling food should follow these food safety tips:

Food safety on the International Space Station (ISS)

All foods sent to the ISS undergo microbiological testing to ensure they are free from bacterial contamination which could cause foodborne illness. Every effort is made to avoid foodborne illness in space, especially because medical care available for astronauts on the ISS is limited.

Further information can be found at the following links:

Mission description

In this activity, participants learn about food safety from the farm to the fork. This lesson includes information about food processing techniques, safe-handling techniques, and food hygiene to keep food safe. Youth participate in an interactive case study of a foodborne illness outbreak on Earth where they identify corrective actions to prevent a future outbreak.


Breakdown Duration
Lesson 20 minutes
Explanation of activity 5 minutes
Activity #1 15 minutes
Activity #2 40 minutes
Wrap-up & clean-up 5 minutes
Total 85 minutes


To increase awareness of food safety, processing, and foodborne illness.


By the end of the lesson, participants will be able to:

Mission preparation




Download the participant handout (PDF, 434 KB)

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