How to be food-safe in the kitchen

21 May, 2021

Top tips for food safety at home

Did you know there are an estimated 4.1 million cases of food poisoning in Australia every year? 

Put another way that means that just over 1 in 6 of us fall ill as a result of eating food that’s been cooked, handled or stored incorrectly. And while food poisoning is no one’s idea of fun, it can also be serious stuff, with some cases leading to hospitalisation and, in extreme situations, death. To mark the upcoming World Food Safety Day on June 7, let’s look at some simple rules for staying food-safe in the kitchen.

What is food safety?

In a nutshell, food safety refers to handling, preparing and storing food in a way to best reduce the risk of someone becoming sick from foodborne illnesses. It can be broken down into four basic principles:

  • Keep it clean
  • Chill it well
  • Cook it properly
  • Store it safe

Let’s dig into those in a bit more detail.

Keeping clean in the kitchen

Before you start preparing and cooking food, wash your hands. Remember the 20/20 rule: wash hands for 20 seconds in warm soapy water and then dry for a further 20 seconds. Repeat frequently, especially after handling raw meats or dirty vegetables. And don’t forget to wash them again before eating.

It’s also important you rinse fresh fruit and vegetables under running water before eating, cutting or cooking and wash your utensils, chopping boards and benchtops with hot, soapy water. Talking of chopping boards, make sure you use a separate one for raw meat, seafood and poultry. And never place cooked food back on a plate or chopping board that previously held raw food.

Time to chill out

When you’re at the supermarket, shop for chilled and frozen food last to minimise the time it’s not refrigerated. When home, place it promptly in the fridge, which should be set at 5c or below, depending on the season. (If your fridge doesn’t tell you its temperature, invest in a fridge thermometer.) Also, remember:

  • Store raw meats below cooked foods in the fridge to avoid contamination from meat juices.
  • Frozen foods should always be defrosted in the fridge rather than on the benchtop because bacteria multiply rapidly in the parts of the food that reach room temperature. If in a hurry, defrost in the microwave.
  • Defrost frozen poultry and rolled and stuffed meats thoroughly before cooking. 
  • Refrigerate leftovers promptly in a covered container or freeze immediately.
  • And if you ever pull anything out of the fridge that has a strange smell or texture, bin it immediately. Or put another way, if in doubt, throw it out. 

Let’s get cooking…safely!

Cook chicken and meat right through until they reach 75c using a meat thermometer. Serve hot food steaming hot above 60c and always follow cooking instructions on packaged foods for temperature and cooking time. 

If you’re eating raw or undercooked eggs it’s important to be aware they may contain salmonella, a type of harmful bacteria. No classic chocolate mousse for you if you’re pregnant or have a compromised immune system!

Where can I find out more?

Head to the Food Safety Information Council website for lots of resources and information on the safe handling, storage and preparation of food. The Australian Institute of Food Safety also has fact sheets for different foods.