Food Safety & Hygiene

Food safety isn’t just about eating out. So whether you’re food shopping, cooking at home or hosting a party, barbecue or picnic, the simple hygiene tips in this section can help you avoid food poisoning.

Food safety at home

Food poisoning isn’t just something you get outside your home – the meals you prepare can be a source of food poisoning too. The 'Four Cs' - cleaning, cooking, chilling and cross-contamination- can help you identify and avoid potential sources of food poisoning:

Cleaning

Right now, your hands could be carrying germs – thousands of them. They're invisible, and can easily spread onto food, making you and your loved ones ill.

Stop the invasion before it's too late! Keep yourself and your kitchen clean by washing and drying your hands thoroughly:

  • before preparing food
  • after touching raw food, especially meat
  • after going to the toilet

You can watch our videos on handwashing technique, for more information:

Make sure you keep worktops, chopping boards and utensils clean. If they’ve been touched by raw meat, poultry or eggs, you'll need to wash them thoroughly.

Don't forget to change dish cloths and tea towels regularly. They may look clean, but they're the perfect place for germs to breed.

Cooking

Germs such as salmonella and E. coli are waiting to strike at any time.

However, they can be killed by thorough cooking:

  • always follow the instructions on the label
  • always check your food is steaming hot in the middle – there should be steam coming out
  • don't reheat food more than once
  • when reheating, take extra care your food is cooked all the way through

It's especially important to make sure poultry, pork, burgers and sausages are cooked all the way through. If there's any pink meat or the juices have any pink or red in them, germs could be lurking. Some meat, such as steaks and joints of beef or lamb, can be served rare as long as the outside has been properly cooked.

Food Standards Scotland strongly advises that burgers made at home are cooked properly, by checking there is no pink in the middle and the juices run clear, or preferably by using a meat thermometer to ensure that the internal temperature reaches 75 degrees C. Harmful bacteria including E. coli O157, can contaminate the surface of beef cuts and are mixed throughout the meat after mincing and forming into burgers. The only way these bacteria can be eliminated is by thorough cooking, and it is therefore really important to ensure the burger is cooked all the way through. Following this advice will you to provide a tasty, juicy burger which is also safe to eat.

Chilling

Stop germs growing by keeping them cold. And make sure you put the right foods in the fridge – look out for a 'use by' date or 'keep refrigerated' on the label. Your fridge is a weapon in the battle against germs, but it must be used effectively. Here are a few useful things to remember:

  • keep it at the right temperature (between 0°C and 5°C)
  • keep the fridge door closed as much as possible
  • wait for food to cool down before you put it in the fridge
  • if your fridge is full, it might need your help! Turn the temperature down to help it fight germs
  • Despite all that, some germs can grow at cold temperatures – even in the fridge. To help keep your food safe, eat leftovers within two days.

    Keep food out of the fridge for the shortest time possible. And when you're eating outside at a barbecue or picnic, use a cool bag or cool box.

    If you're putting out food for a party, try not to leave it out for more than four hours. Otherwise germs might have a party of their own!

Cross contamination

This is the final operation in the battle against germs. They mustn't be allowed to spread around your kitchen and invade food that's ready to eat! This is one of the major causes of food poisoning.

But here are a few simple things you can do to help stop it happening:

  • keep raw meat and unwashed vegetables separate from ready-to-eat food during storage and preparation
  • don't let raw meat drip onto other food – keep it in sealed containers at the bottom of your fridge
  • never use the same chopping board for raw meat and ready-to-eat food without washing the board (and knife) thoroughly in between
  • don't wash meat before cooking it. Washing doesn't get rid of the harmful germs that can be present – only proper cooking will. You also run the risk of splashing germs onto worktops and utensils

Remember the 4 Cs and don't make your mealtime a horror story!

For more on the illnesses caused by food poisoning, see our Foodborne Illness page.

‘Use by' and ‘best before’ dates

Most foods must be marked with either a ‘use by date’ or ‘best before date’.

  • A ‘use by’ date is about food safety and is used on foods that go off quickly, such as raw meat or fish, cooked sliced meats and dairy products. Food should not be eaten after its use by date as it may not be safe.
  • A ‘best before’ date is about food quality rather than food safety, so after this date expires the food will not be harmful, but its flavour, colour or texture might begin to deteriorate.

Handling and Cooking Raw Fruit and Vegetables

  • Keep unwashed raw fruit and vegetables separate from ready-to-eat food during storage and preparation

  • Use different chopping boards, knives and utensils for unwashed raw vegetables and ready-to-eat foods or wash these items thoroughly in between uses

  • Always wash hands thoroughly before and after handling raw food, including vegetables

  • Check the label - unless packaging around vegetables says ‘ready-to-eat’ you must wash, peel or cook them before eating

  • When you are washing raw vegetables, it’s important to avoid cross-contamination. Rubbing them under water, for example in a bowl of fresh water, will help to reduce splashing. Try to wash the least soiled items first and give each of them a final rinse. Brushing off dry soil before washing may help reduce the amount of washing required to clean the vegetables thoroughly

Parties and events

A successful party is one you and your guests enjoy. Obviously, that means no food poisoning!

Safer party food

Give yourself plenty of time to prepare food- preparing food in advance gives you time to get it right, without pressure.

  • Keep food chilled
  • Keep food in the fridge until it’s needed. And if you’re short on fridge space, move wine and beer into buckets of ice, or somewhere cool like a cellar.
  • Don’t cook too quickly
  • Even if people are waiting to eat, don’t reduce cooking times. Better safe than fast.
  • Check food before serving
  • Food should be piping hot all the way through to kill bacteria. A food probe can help you make sure food is at a safe temperature.

Barbecues

When you're barbecuing, the biggest risk of food poisoning is from raw and undercooked meat. But following a few simple tips can keep your barbecued food safe and tasty.

Safer barbecues
  • Frozen food should be completely thawed before you start to cook it.

  • Keep raw meat in sealed containers, separate from other foods. That way it won’t contaminate them with bacteria. And use separate plates and utensils for raw meat.

  • Don’t use a sauce or marinade for cooked food that’s had raw meat in it.

  • When the charcoal is glowing red with a powdery grey surface, it’s ready for you to start cooking.

  • Keep food moving on the barbecue, so it cooks evenly.

  • Check the centre of the food – steam should be coming out of it. Meat isn’t necessarily cooked inside just because it looks charred on the outside.

  • Make sure chicken, pork, burgers, sausages and kebabs are hot all the way through. There should be no pink meat, and juices should run clear. A good way of achieving this is to cook meat indoors (in a pan, grill or oven), then finish it off on the barbecue for that chargrilled flavour.

Picnics

Apart from the weather, the one thing that can ruin your picnic is food poisoning.

Safer picnics
  • Keep food in the fridge until you need it.

If you take food out of the fridge right before you leave, it’ll stay cool longer when you put it into a cool bag or cool box. This is especially important for any foods containing cream, and meat and poultry.

  • Wash fruit and vegetables.

If you do this before setting off, your fruit and veg will be clean and ready to eat when you start your picnic.

  • Cover your food.

Wasps aren’t the only ones after your food. Other insects, along with birds and pets, want in on your picnic. They can carry bacteria, so keep your food covered when you can.