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.
You should store food that has to be kept cold at or below 5°C to prevent the growth of bacteria that cause food poisoning. You should store frozen food at -15°C or colder.
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 four 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.
Cooking and cooling food
Cooking food properly and to the right temperature reduces the risk of food poisoning. You should cook minced, stuffed or boned meats, chicken and sausages all the way through (to 75°C in the centre), and serve your hot food steaming hot (above 60°C).
It is also important to cool cooked food properly. You can put cooked food in the fridge or freezer as soon as its temperature has dropped to about 45°C. Read more about barbecuing food safely.
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.
Don’t handle food if you’re sick with an infection, diarrhoea or vomiting, or for 48 hours after your symptoms disappear.
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.
Last reviewed: February 2017