Kitchens are places where bacteria and germs can multiply quickly and easily in the right conditions, causing the risk of contamination and cross-contamination, a major cause of foodborne illnesses such as Salmonella. For example, if raw uncooked meat comes into contact with ready-to-eat foods, the bacteria on the meat will contaminate the clean, ready-to-eat food.
Anyone who handles food must know and follow the rules for best practice to ensure food remains safe to eat. This article looks at several basic good food hygiene rules which will give you an excellent foundation for working with and handling food safely. If you’re position is managing food hygiene within a food establishment than a Level 3 Food Hygiene Training is recommended as this course covers food hygiene legislation.
These basic precautions, when implemented and maintained effectively, will help you to reduce risks in the handling, storing, preparing and cooking of food. These rules include the following:
- Adopt effective cleaning and disinfection practices
- Adopt high standards of personal hygiene practices
- Store food correctly
- Cook food thoroughly
- Chilling and freezing foods
- Storing waste safely
1. Adopt Effective Cleaning and Disinfection Practices
Maintain a high standard of general cleanliness. Keeping the kitchen clean is vital to minimising risks. Cleaning and disinfection using good hygiene products should take place before and after handling and cooking food. This includes all surfaces, equipment and utensils to minimise the risk of cross-contamination.
Using disposable cloths is best. If using reusable cloths, ensure they are sterilised frequently and dried thoroughly and always before their next use. Damp cloths and sponges can store multiple bacteria.
Bacteria can easily multiply in areas where water is held. Wipe tops and sinks frequently to ensure these surfaces remain dry and minimise the risk of germs.
Keep utensils and equipment used for raw meats and poultry separate from other foods and always clean and disinfect surfaces where they have been handled immediately to avoid cross-contamination.
Use different cutting boards and utensils for different types of food. A colour-code system is often adopted in kitchens to minimise the risk of cross-contamination.
2. Adopt High Standards of Personal Hygiene Practices
It is critical to wash your hands properly before and after handling foods, to prevent contamination, as bacteria can spread easily and quickly from our hands onto food.
To do this effectively, use hand-hot water and rub soap into the hands, between the fingers, including fingertips, and wrists for at least 15-20 seconds.
Hands should be dried using disposable paper towels or an air dryer. Do not use cloths, overalls, tea towels as this can cause cross-contamination.
The number of handwashing facilities should be appropriate for the size of the business. Only use sinks designated for handwashing (and not used for washing equipment or food). This helps in reducing the spread of several types of harmful bacteria like Salmonella and E. coli.
Tie long hair back or wear a hat to prevent hair falling into food or onto the surfaces. Men with beards should wear a snood.
Wear clean aprons or overalls to protect the food from outside clothing, which may be contaminated.
Do not handle food if you are suffering from vomiting and diarrhoea, or certain skin conditions. Skin lesions and boils should be covered with blue plasters and disposable gloves worn to prevent the spread of harmful bacteria.
3. Store Food Correctly
Correctly storing food is critical to avoid bacteria multiplying to a dangerous level and causing contamination and cross-contamination to occur. For example:
- Keep high-risk foods (such as cooked meats) separate to raw foods.
- Food should always be covered, or held in suitable containers and at the correct temperature. If food is left in the open at ambient temperatures, it becomes vulnerable to bacteria.
- All raw animal foods, such as raw fish, meat, and poultry, should be stored on the bottom of the fridge as they can easily drip onto other ready-to-eat foods in the fridge, which can cause contamination and illness.
- Follow the food storage instructions and check the ‘Use by…’ date on the packaging to allow effective stock rotation.
- Ensure food has cooled completely before storing it.
- Any leftovers should be covered and stored in the fridge or freezer within 2 hours of cooking.
- Keep foods out of the temperature ‘Danger Zone’, (roughly between 5° to 63°C (41° to 145°F) as this is the range in temperature that foodborne bacteria multiply quickly.
4. Cook Food Thoroughly
The primary aim of cooking food is to destroy (or minimise numbers to a safe level) harmful bacteria, viruses and parasites, which can cause foodborne illnesses.
For food to be safe to eat, it must be cooked thoroughly to a temperature of at least 72°C for 2 minutes. If cooked food is to be kept hot for consumption later, it is important to use equipment such as a bain-marie, that will hold the food at a temperature of 63°C or above.
You can use a thermometer probe to check that if the correct temperature has been achieved for foods such as meat, for example, burgers, joints, sausages, chicken etc. Alternatively, if you don’t have a thermometer, cut into the food to ensure it has been fully cooked through. For example, an easy visual clue for cooked chicken is that all the juices that come from the chicken should run clear and not be pink.
If you reheat food, ensure it is steaming hot all the way through. Never reheat any food more than once. Some foods, such as rice, can be more problematic as it may contain a bacteria called Bacillus cereus, that can survive some cooking processes, causing food poisoning.
5. Safe Chilling and Freezing Foods
Check your freezer and refrigerator temperatures regularly to ensure they are operating at the correct temperatures for the safe storage of foods. Fridges should ideally be between 1 C – 4 C and freezers should operate at a maximum temperature of -18 C.
To keep equipment operating at the correct temperatures:
- do not put hot food into the fridge
- do not leave the door open for long periods as this will affect the temperature and operation of the equipment
Make sure all foods are correctly labelled with its content and the date, allowing correct stock rotation. Do not overload the shelves.
6. Store Waste Safely
Bins should be emptied regularly to avoid the build-up of decaying food where bacteria can multiply easily and quickly.
Bins should have lids, and if possible, use one with a mechanical foot pedal, which allows for food and other items to be put in the bin without having to touch it.
Also, by adopting good waste practices such as these, will help deter the attraction of pests, such as mice and rats.