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Food safety

5-minute read

Key facts

  • Food safety involves storing, handling, and preparing of food carefully to reduce the spread of bacteria and minimises your risk of becoming sick, or causing illness in people who eat the foods you prepare.
  • Preparing and cooking food properly and to the right temperature reduces the risk of food poisoning.
  • Keep refrigerated food at or below 5°C as soon as possible after purchase to prevent the growth of bacteria that cause food poisoning, and you should store frozen food at -15°C or colder and defrost it in the fridge, not at room temperature.
  • The ‘temperature danger zone’ for food safety is between 5°C and 60°C, and bacteria can’t grow easily at temperatures outside of this zone.
  • It’s important to wash and dry your hands and equipment before handling food and between preparing different foods.

What is food safety and why is it important?

Food safety refers to the storing, handling, and preparing food in a way that reduces the spread of bacteria, and minimises your risk of becoming sick from the food you eat.

Taking care to prepare and cook your food safely is important in preventing illness.

How to cook and cool food safely

Preparing and cooking food properly and to the right temperature reduces the risk of food poisoning.

  • Always cook minced meat, sausages and poultry all the way through until the juices run clear and there is no pink.
  • Whole pieces of red meat, such as steak can be cooked to taste, and as long as it is properly heated and well browned on the outside to kill bacteria it can be rare inside.
  • Never leave cooked meals at room temperature for longer than 2 hours.
  • Keep food steaming hot until you serve it.

Cool leftovers quickly. This is to prevent any bacteria that have survived the cooking process from multiplying while your hot food cools down. The best way to do this is to cover any leftovers and put them in the fridge or freezer. Leftovers can generally be kept for 2 to 4 days in the fridge, or for up to several months in the freezer.

When you reheat leftover foods, make sure all parts are steaming hot, enough to kill off any bacteria. Reheat food rapidly to at least 70ºC.

Read more about barbecuing food safely.

Infographic with tips for safe refrigerated storage of food and cooking tips
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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 at room temperature.

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. Storing food in airtight containers can help slow the growth of harmful bacteria.

Food doesn’t immediately become unsafe when it’s in the danger zone. It should be okay for up to 4 hours, however, try to get leftovers in the fridge within 2 hours of cooking them.

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. Even with foods stored in the fridge, you do need to be more careful preparing foods for people who are:

  • pregnant
  • very young or old
  • ill or recovering from illness

How to avoid cross-contamination

Cross-contamination occurs when bacteria is transferred from one place to another, such as from raw food to prepared food that is ready to eat. Always prepare raw and cooked food separately. 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.

You should also thoroughly clean all surfaces, equipment and utensils after preparing raw meat and poultry before being used for other foods. If possible, use a separate cutting board and knife specifically for raw meat and chicken.

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:

  1. Wet your hands with water.
  2. Apply soap or hand wash.
  3. Lather and wash for 20 seconds or more.
  4. Rinse both sides of your hands with water.
  5. Dry your hands for 20 seconds or more.

Resources and Support

View the healthdirect food safety guide.

Learn more about barbeque food safety:

Learn more here about the development and quality assurance of healthdirect content.

Last reviewed: December 2022


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