Food safety

It’s important to cook, store and handle food correctly, otherwise people who eat it could become ill with food poisoning. Occasionally, foods can contain harmful bacteria like E. coli O157, salmonella, campylobacter and listeria, which can cause serious illnesses.

It’s not just food you prepare from scratch at home that can carry these bacteria. Ready meals, cooked meats and prepared salads and fruit can be contaminated with them too.

There are a few basic things you should do to make sure that all the food you eat is clean and safe.

First, wash your hands

Our hands are the main way in which germs are spread – so it’s important to wash them with soap and warm water before cooking and after touching raw foods (meat, poultry, eggs, fish and other produce), going to the toilet, touching bins and touching pets.

Top hygiene tips:

  • Always wash your chopping board after cutting raw meat. If you can, use one board for meat and another for other foods.
  • Take care to keep raw meat away from ready-to-eat foods such as bread, salad and fruit. You won’t cook these before you eat them, so any germs that get onto them won’t be killed.
  • Wash and replace kitchen cloths, sponges and tea towels frequently – they are the perfect breeding ground for harmful bugs.
  • You don’t need to use anti-bacterial sprays to wash worktops. Hot, soapy water is fine.

Hygiene is vital when preparing food for your baby. Read more about safe bottle feeding and introducing your baby to solids.

Make sure it’s cooked

The only meats that are safe to eat rare (which means cooked on the outside only) are whole cuts of beef or lamb (steaks, joints and cutlets). All other meat, including sausages, burgers and rolled joints, need to be cooked right through to kill any harmful bacteria.

How to check that your meat is properly cooked:

  • Burgers, sausages, chicken and pork – cut into the middle to check that the meat is no longer pink and that it’s piping hot (steam is coming out).
  • Whole chicken/turkey – pierce the thickest part of the leg (between the drumstick and the thigh) to check that there is no pink and that the juices are clear (not pink or red).
  • Pork joints and rolled joints – put a skewer into the centre of the meat and check that the juices are not pink or red.

Check the use-by date

You shouldn’t eat food beyond the use-by date. These dates are based on scientific tests that show how quickly harmful bacteria can develop in the packaged food. You can freeze products before their use-by date if you don’t think you’ll get around to eating them in time. Once defrosted, you shouldn’t refreeze them unless you cook them first.

Store it safely

When storing raw meat, always keep it in a clean, sealed container and place it on the bottom shelf of the fridge where it can’t touch or drip onto other foods.

If you’re storing cooked food, cool it to room temperature first. If you’re in a hurry, putting the food in small, sealed containers and then running them under cold water will cool them more quickly.

Freezing tips:

  • Once frozen and defrosted you should not refreeze leftover food, so freeze leftovers in portion sizes that you can defrost and use all in one go.
  • Make sure that you use foods within 24 hours of defrosting them.

For more information on food safety:

Food Standards Agency

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