California Agriculture in the Classroom

Food Safety Sleuths- Food Safety Specialist

Grade Level(s)

6 - 8

Estimated Time

Two class sessions, plus 10-minute daily observations for one week


In this lesson students will learn about foodborne illness, its prevention, and the people and organizations that are involved in food safety. Students will conduct an experiment to learn how hand-washing affects the presence of bacteria on their hands.


For the teacher:

For each group:

For each student:

Essential Files (maps, charts, pictures, or documents)


virus: extremely small organism that causes disease and can spread from one person or animal to another

pathogen: something that causes disease or illness.

parasite: an animal or plant that lives in or on another animal or plant in order to get food and protection.

microorganism: any organism, such as a bacterium, protozoan, or virus, of microscopic size.

innoculate: to introduce a microorganism into a suitable growing medium.

foodborne illness: any illness resulting from the consumption of food contaminated with viruses, parasites, or pathogenic bacteria.

food safety: the handling, preparation, and storage of food through scientifically tested methods that prevent foodborne illness.

contaminate: to make something dirty or impure by accidentally or purposely adding something harmful.

bacterial colony: a visible cluster of thousands of cells that grew from the original bacterial cell. One single bacterium is invisible to the naked eye, but a colony of many bacteria is visible without using a microscope.

agar plate: a Petri dish containing a gel with nutrients for growing bacterial cultures or small plants.

Background - Agricultural Connections

This lesson is one out of four lessons designed for grades six through eight which promote the development of STEM abilities and critical thinking skills, while fostering an appreciation for the people involved in food production. The new curriculum includes inquiry-based labs, real life challenges for students to investigate and opportunities to plan and construct products and shipping models. Other lessons in this series include: 

A foodborne illness is when a person becomes sick after consuming food that is contaminated with:

Symptoms of foodborne illness include upset stomach, nausea, vomiting, stomach cramps, fever, and diarrhea. Microorganisms play a role in the majority of foodborne illnesses. Most microorganisms are harmless, yet some can make us sick. The microorganisms that cause illness are called pathogens.

Bacteria are single-celled organisms. While most are harmless, some are pathogenic. These pathogenic bacteria are often responsible for most cases of foodborne illness. Using nutrients found in food, bacteria can quickly multiply under the right temperature conditions. As bacteria multiply, they excrete toxic waste products that can make people sick after consuming contaminated food. If conditions are favorable, bacteria numbers can double every ten to thirty minutes. Proper food handling, storage, and preparation can prevent most foodborne illnesses caused by the pathogens described above. There are many careers dedicated to keeping our food safe. These careers involve the latest in science and technology to find new methods of providing people with a healthy food supply. The U.S. Department of Food and Agriculture (USDA) regulates meat, poultry, and eggs, and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration regulates the rest of the food produced in or imported into the country. Local health inspectors regulate restaurants, supermarkets, and other food service businesses and organizations in our communities.

In general, a food safety specialist’s job is to make sure that our food is wholesome and safe by applying their knowledge of food science, bacteriology, microbiology, food laws, regulations, and hazard analysis. Food safety specialists work in hotels, government agencies, restaurants, factories, and more. There are a wide range of employment opportunities and careers linked to food safety. Visit the USDA Food Safety and Inspection Services website and select Careers then Opportunities and Types of Jobs to read descriptions of duties and qualifications.

Everyone can play a role in preventing foodborne illness. Food safety specialists recommend following four simple steps before handling or eating food: clean, separate, cook, and chill.





Interest Approach – Engagement

  1. Show your students the Recipe for Disaster video clips located on the website. Each video illustrates a food safety mistake that could be made in the kitchen while preparing food. Lead a discussion with your students about each mistake Maria makes.
  2. Inform your students they will:
    • learn how to prevent foodborne illness through safe food handling and preparation;
    • learn how environmental factors influence bacterial growth;
    • design an experiment to test a hypothesis; and
    • identify different types of bacterial pathogens that can lead to foodborne illnesses.


  1. Ask students what comes to mind when they hear the words food safety, and jot some of their ideas on the board. Discuss an example of safe food handling practices at a picnic. To provide students with background information on the topic of food safety, read Perfect Food Safe Picnics! and compare the information found in the article with students’ initial ideas about food safety.
  2. Tell students that you will read a scenario to them about a group of friends who go on a picnic. Instruct students to pay close attention to food safety issues as you read the story aloud.
    • After reading Perils at the Picnic to the class, ask students what they noticed about food safety at the picnic. Ask students if they would have done anything differently and why.
    • Organize students into groups of 3-4 and pass out Perils at the Picnic along with the accompanying Cracking the Case questions. Have each group brainstorm answers to the Cracking the Case (page 2) questions. Review answers as a class.
  3. Show students the Food Safety Sleuths PowerPoint presentation. Students should use the Food Safety Sleuths handout to take notes.
    • At the end of the presentation, have students break into groups to come up with a catchy rhyme or song to remember the four steps for food safety. Clean, Separate, Cook, and Chill.
  4. Explain to students that they will be conducting an experiment to learn how hand-washing affects the presence of bacteria on their hands. Organize students into groups of 3-4 and instruct them to brainstorm methods they could use for testing the effects of hand washing on the presence of bacteria. Groups should write down their ideas about experiment set-up and should share them in a class discussion.
    • After the class discussion on experimental design, distribute the Hands On! lab to each student and go over the directions as a class. Explain that this is one example of how a hand-washing experiment could be carried out and discuss its similarities to ideas that groups had while brainstorming experiment set-ups.
    • Demonstrate the proper sterile technique for inoculating the nutrient agar plates.
  5. Instruct students to design a slide show, video, poster, or brochure describing food handling and preparation techniques. Students should use data from their own experiments as well as facts from research. Review the presentation rubric with the students.

Concept Elaboration and Evaluation

After conducting these activities, review and summarize the following key concepts:


ELL Adaptations

We welcome your feedback! Please take a minute to tell us how to make this lesson better or to give us a few gold stars!


Enriching Activities

Suggested Companion Resources


This unit was funded by the United States Department of Agriculture’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture, Secondary Agriculture Education Challenge Grants Program.

Executive Director: Judy Culbertson
Illustrator: Toni Smith
Layout and Design: Nina Danner and Renee Thompson
Copy Editor: Leah Rosasco


Mandi Bottoms & Shaney Emerson

Organization Affiliation

California Foundation for Agriculture in the Classroom