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Food handling and hygiene

Preparing and cooking food properly helps you prevent food poisoning.

Food poisoning can make you seriously ill, and can be fatal in some cases.

Knowing how to prepare and cook food properly ensures that:

  • food does not become contaminated
  • harmful organisms are killed, or their growth is slowed or stopped.

Washing your hands

To reduce the risk of food contamination:

  • wash your hands and fingernails thoroughly with warm running water and soap after
    • coughing or sneezing, smoking
    • using a handkerchief or tissue
    • visiting the toilet
    • handling rubbish
    • touching animals
    • handling chemicals (e.g. cleaning materials)
    • handling raw meat, particularly before handling cooked food or food to be eaten raw
    • touching hair, scalp or a body opening
  • dry your hands thoroughly
  • cover cuts and infections on your hands.

Handling food safely

Follow these food handling tips to reduce the risk of food poisoning.

  • Avoid handling food when you are unwell.
  • Keep raw meats, poultry and seafood separate from cooked food and food to be eaten raw.
  • Put food in the refrigerator in closed containers or covered with plastic wrap to reduce the risk of cross contamination
  • Use clean utensils, plates or containers to prevent contaminating cooked food or food that will be eaten raw.
  • Use clean equipment, rather than hands, to pick up food.
  • Wear clean clothes or a clean apron or overall.
  • Wash fruit and vegetables to be eaten raw under running water.
  • Cook food thoroughly, especially minced meat, burger patties, sausages, rolled roasts, stuffed meats, rabbit, seafood and poultry.

Hot food

To prevent food poisoning from hot food:

  • keep it at 60ºC or above until served
  • refrigerate or freeze food that is to be prepared well in advance and reheat to steaming hot before serving.

You should

  • place hot food in the refrigerator once it has stopped steaming
  • divide large quantities of food into small, shallow containers for faster cooling
  • reheat as quickly as possible until steaming hot
  • cook or reheat packaged food according to any directions on the label.

Cold food

To prevent food poisoning from cold food:

  • take cold groceries home to the refrigerator as quickly as possible
  • keep chilled and frozen food cold (e.g. in an insulated bag or with ice) if it will be a long time before it can be placed in a refrigerator or freezer
  • store cold food at 5ºC or below.
  • thaw frozen food in the refrigerator or microwave, not on the kitchen bench
  • do not refreeze food once defrosted
  • store and handle cold food according to any directions on the label
  • check the temperature of the refrigerator regularly.


When washing plates and cooking equipment:

  • scrape and rinse off surface food
  • wash in clean, hot, soapy water
  • rinse in clean water
  • let dishes air-dry, where possible
  • use only a clean, dry tea towel if drying immediately.

Pest control and animals

Reduce the risk posed by pests and animals by:

  • storing food safely
  • stopping pests coming into the area where food is kept
  • not leaving food or dirty dishes out on benches and keeping the kitchen clean
  • keeping animals out of the kitchen.

General food safety tips

To help keep food you prepare safe, it is important to follow these steps:

  • thaw food in the refrigerator or microwave
  • uncooked meats should be kept covered and separated from cooked foods and ready-to-eat foods to avoid cross contamination
  • do not re‐freeze food once it has been thawed
  • make sure all food used is fresh and within the used‐by date
  • cook all meat, chicken and eggs thoroughly
  • make sure hot foods are hot (above 60°C)
  • make sure cold foods are cold (below 5°C)
  • cool left over food in small containers in the fridge. Food should be cooled from 60°C to 21°C within 2 hours and from 21°C to 5°C within a further 4 hours
  • eat any leftovers within 24 hours
  • reheat leftovers to above 74°C for over 2 minutes.

More information

Read more about handling potentially hazardous foods

Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Australia (CC BY 3.0)
Last updated
24 November 2015

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