Taking care to prepare and cook your food safely is important in preventing illness.
Food needs to be stored, handled and cooked carefully and at temperatures that avoid the spread and growth of bacteria that can make you sick.
How to cook and cool food safely
Cooking food properly and to the right temperature reduces the risk of food poisoning. Always cook meats all the way through, until the juices run clear. Make sure there is no pink left in mince or sausages. Keep food steaming hot until you serve it.
When you reheat leftover foods, make sure all parts are steaming hot. Don’t reheat food more than once.
Cool leftovers quickly. Cover them and put them in the fridge or freezer. Eat refrigerated leftovers in 1 to 2 days.
Read more about barbecuing food safely.
How to store food
You should store food that has to be kept cold at or below 5°C as soon as possible after purchase to prevent the growth of bacteria that cause food poisoning.
You should store frozen food at -15°C or colder and defrost it in the fridge, not on the kitchen bench.
The ‘temperature danger zone’ for food safety is between 5°C and 60°C. Bacteria can’t grow easily at temperatures outside of this zone.
Food doesn’t immediately become unsafe when it’s in the danger zone. It should be okay for up to 4 hours.
If you’re healthy, you should be able to eat food that’s been properly handled and stored at the right temperature without getting sick.
But if you’re pregnant, elderly or you’re preparing food for a young child, or if you’re ill or have been ill, you need to be more careful, even with foods stored in the fridge.
How to avoid cross-contamination
Cross-contamination occurs when bacteria get transferred from one place to another, such as from raw food to food that has already been prepared. Bacteria can be transferred by your hands, on cutting boards or by a knife, a fork or tongs.
Raw meat, in particular raw chicken, is the most likely source of cross-contaminating bacteria. Avoid cross-contamination in the fridge by storing raw and cooked foods separately in covered containers. Always prepare raw and cooked food separately.
You should also clean mincers, mixers and cutting boards carefully to make sure there is no residue left on them.
Washing your hands
It’s important to wash and dry your hands and equipment between preparing different foods.
You should wash and dry your hands:
- before starting to prepare food
- after touching raw meat, fish, eggs, or vegetables with soil on them
- after using the toilet
- after blowing your nose
- after touching an animal
- after touching any sores or cuts
Drying your hands is very important. Bacteria can be transferred in the moisture of damp hands.
To wash your hands effectively and safely:
- Wet your hands with water.
- Apply soap or hand wash.
- Lather and wash for 20 seconds or more.
- Rinse both sides of your hands with water.
- Dry your hands for 20 seconds or more.
Learn more here about the development and quality assurance of healthdirect content.
Last reviewed: January 2021