Food safety is defined as the assurance that the food will not cause harm to the consumer when it is prepared and/or eaten according to its intended use. Thus food safety assurance involves the reduction of risks which may occur in the food.
Food quality is defined by the International Organization for Standardization (ISO) as “the totality of features and characteristics of a product that bear on its ability to satisfy stated or implied needs.”
In other words, good quality exists when the product complies with the requirements specified by the client. This means quality is a term defined by the consumer, buyer, grader, or any other client based on a number of subjective and objective measurements of the food product. These may include measures of purity, flavor, color, maturity, safety, wholesomeness, nutrition, or any other attribute or characteristic of the product.
Using these definitions, safety is a component of quality. In fact, many experts have argued that safety is the most important component of quality since a lack of safety can result in serious injury and even death for the consumer of the product.
Safety differs from many other quality attributes since it is a quality attribute that is difficult to observe:
A product can appear to be of high quality, i.e. well colored, appetizing, flavorful, etc. and yet be unsafe because it is contaminated with undetected pathogenic organisms, toxic chemicals, or physical hazards.
On the other hand, a product that seems to lack many of the visible quality attributes can be safe.
Obvious quality defects can result in consumer rejection and lower sales, while safety hazards may be hidden and go undetected until the product is consumed. Since assuring safety is vital to public health, achieving safety must always take precedence over achieving high levels of other quality attributes.
Safety and quality assurance should be ongoing processes incorporating activities beginning with selecting and preparing the soil and proceeding through to consumption of the product.
Both safety and quality assurance should focus on the prevention of problems, not simply curing them since, once safety or quality is reduced, it is virtually impossible to go back and improve it for that item. It is possible however, to assure that the same problem does not affect future products.
Although safety is a component of quality, safety assurance frequently is not included in quality assurance programs. Sometimes safety and quality assurance may be separate but complementary programs to ensure safety issues receive appropriate emphasis. The importance of safety to consumer health makes it imperative that safety programs be a primary component of all produce production and handling operations.