Food safety guidelines
Food often carries small numbers of pathogens. These food safety guidelines are designed to reduce the risk of them growing on food, or spreading from one type of food to another.
- always check the ‘use by’ or ‘best before’ date - if it is past the ‘use by’ date, don’t buy it
- check for damaged packaging - don’t buy dented tins, leaking cartons or bottles (eg, milk), ripped boxes or packets, broken or pierced seals (eg, yoghurt)
- avoid swollen chilled food packages and cans
- avoid products in loose vacuum packs (eg, bacon - the packaging should be tight around the food, with no air pocket)
- avoid chilled products that are not cold to the touch
- avoid frozen products that are not frozen solid
- avoid hot foods that are not piping hot (eg, cooked chickens, unless you selected them from the cooker yourself).
- at the supermarket, make sure raw meat and chicken are packed in separate bags from other foods to stop raw meat juices contaminating them
- always take food straight home, especially chilled and frozen foods - never leave food in a hot car
- for chilled and frozen foods, if you have more than a 30 minute trip home or if the weather is hot, use a chilly bag or bin with an ice pack
- when you get home, immediately transfer chilled and frozen foods into the fridge or freezer.
To keep food fresh, and to slow any growth of pathogens, store it in properly.
In the pantry
- keep foods in airtight containers, or buy reusable bag clips (for closing packets)
- keep foods covered
- keep shelves clean - crumbs and spills attract pests
- throw away any food that is mouldy, strangely coloured or infested with insects.
In the fridge
- the temperature should be between 2ºC and 4ºC - check the temperature daily (you can buy a fridge thermometer from homeware or hardware stores)
- don’t let meat and chicken juices drip on to other foods - put raw meat at the bottom of the fridge
- cover all cooked foods (eg, with plastic wrap)
- in New Zealand it is not essential to store eggs refrigerated as our poultry flocks do not carry some of the pathogens of concern in other countries, but MAF Food Safety recommends it as a precautionary measure
- meats should be marinated in a covered container in the fridge, not on the bench
- leftover hot food should be covered and put in the fridge as soon as it has stopped steaming; hot food will cool more quickly if put into a shallow dish and then in the bottom of the fridge where it is colder
- reheat leftovers until steaming hot (generally over 70ºC) and do not reheat more than once
- throw out leftovers if they are older than two days.
In the freezer
- freeze only fresh, good quality food - freezing will not always kill pathogens
- freeze small amounts of food at a time - otherwise the middle might not get frozen fast enough to stop pathogens growing
- the freezer temperature should be between -15ºC and -18ºC (you can buy a freezer thermometer from homeware or hardware stores)
- raw food, cooked food and leftovers should be frozen once only.
- make sure meat and chicken are completely thawed (defrosted) before you cook them
- never thaw frozen food on the bench - it can be thawed in the fridge overnight, or in the microwave (using the defrost or lowest power setting)
- when defrosting foods such as mince and casserole in the microwave, break them up during thawing, and then immediately cook or reheat them
- preheat the oven so that food cooks as quickly as possible
- make sure food is thoroughly cooked and steamimg hot right through to the middle
- minced meat, meatloaf and sausages should be cooked right through, and pork and poultry juices should run clear - use a meat thermometer to check temperatures. Undercooked meat and chicken should not be eaten!
- eggs should be well cooked (firm yolk and white) - don’t eat raw or undercooked eggs
- vegetables should be washed before cooking
- eat cooked food while it is still hot - don’t leave it to stand at room temperature.
Microwaves are quick and easy to use, but they don’t always cook or reheat food evenly and may leave cold spots in the food:
- when cooking in the microwave, stir food frequently to avoid uneven cooking
- cover food with a suitable lid or microwave-safe plastic wrap (but don’t let the wrap touch the food) - covered food cooks or thaws more evenly
- always leave food for the recommended standing time after cooking or reheating in the microwave - this is necessary for the food to finish cooking
- make sure that reheated and cooked food is steaming hot right through to the middle.
One of the most important things in preventing illness from pathogens is clean hands. Drying is just as important as washing. Remember wash+dry=clean: wash your hands thoroughly, using plenty of soap, for at least 20 seconds and then rinse them well. Dry them completely for another 20 seconds on a clean dry hand towel or paper towels. Keep hand towels for hands only, or use paper towels - don’t use the tea towel. Use a fresh hand towel daily (or change it more often if it is wet).
Wash and dry your hands:
- before and after preparing food
- after handling raw meat and chicken (before you handle any other foods, or before you touch your face, mouth or eyes)
- after going to the toilet, helping a child go to the toilet, or changing a baby’s nappy
- after touching pets or farm animals
- after blowing or touching your nose, sneezing into your hand, or touching your hair or your mouth while preparing food
- after gardening
- after handling rubbish.
To avoid contaminating food with pathogens:
- always use clean utensils (eg, knives, spoons) when preparing foods
- use hot soapy water or a dishwasher to wash dishes; let dishes air dry rather than drying with a tea towel. If you have to use a tea towel make sure it is changed at least daily
- use separate chopping boards and utensils when preparing raw foods that require cooking (especially meat and chicken), and cooked or ready-to-eat foods (eg, salad)
- if you have just one chopping board and one knife, scrub them clean in hot soapy water and dry thoroughly between using with raw and then cooked/ready-to-eat foods
- never put cooked food back onto the same plate it was on when raw food - always use a clean plate (eg, when barbecuing meat, chicken or fish)
- use separate sponges or cloths for the dishes, the bench and the floor (tip: use different colours so you know which one is for which task)
- use paper towels (instead of a cloth or sponge) and disinfectant (eg, bleach solution) to wipe up messy spills such as raw meat or chicken juices from the bench or floor
- clean dish cloths or sponges by one of the following methods: washing them in hot water (at least 60ºC), soaking in bleach solution for at least one hour, microwaving the damp dish cloth for two to four minutes on high, or putting them through a full cycle in the dishwasher
- avoid coughing or sneezing over food
- don’t allow pets near food or on bench tops
- cover food to protect it from flies and other insects
- don’t prepare food for other people if you have an illness with diarrhoea or vomiting. You could contaminate the food and pass the illness on to others.
More about Food safety at home