How to prepare and cook food safely

Studies show that the kitchen contains the most germs in the home.

One found that the kitchen sink contains 100,000 times more germs than the bathroom.

Germs such as E. coli, campylobacter and salmonella enter the kitchen on our hands, raw food and through our pets. They can rapidly spread if we're not careful. 

If food isn't cooked, stored and handled correctly, people can become ill with food poisoning, colds, flu and other conditions.

Washing hands

Our hands are one of the main ways germs are spread, so it's important to wash them thoroughly with soap and warm water before cooking, after touching the bin, going to the toilet, and after touching raw food.

Raw meat, including poultry, can contain harmful bacteria that can spread easily to anything it touches. This includes other food, worktops, tables, chopping boards and knives.

"Lots of people think they should wash raw chicken, but there's no need," says food hygiene expert Adam Hardgrave. "Any germs on it will be killed if you cook it thoroughly. In fact, if you do wash chicken you could splash germs on to the sink, worktop, dishes or anything else nearby."

Take particular care to keep raw food away from ready-to-eat foods such as bread, salad and fruit. These foods won't be cooked before you eat them so any germs that get on to them won't be killed.

"Use different chopping boards for raw and ready-to-eat foods," says Hardgrave.

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 on to other foods.

Cooking

These foods need to be cooked thoroughly before eating:

  • poultry, including liver 
  • pork
  • offal, including liver
  • burgers
  • sausages
  • rolled joints of meat
  • kebabs

Cooking food at the right temperature will ensure that any harmful bacteria are killed. Check that food is piping hot throughout before you eat it.

When cooking burgers, sausages, chicken and pork, cut into the middle to check that the meat is no longer pink, the juices run clear and it's piping hot (steam is coming out).

When cooking a whole chicken or other bird, pierce the thickest part of the leg (between the drumstick and the thigh) to check that there is no pink meat and that the juices are no longer pink or red.

Pork joints and rolled joints shouldn't be eaten pink or rare. To check when these types of joint are ready to eat, put a skewer into the centre of the meat and check that there is no pink meat and the juices run clear.

It's safe to serve steak and other whole cuts of beef and lamb rare (not cooked in the middle) or blue (seared on the outside) as long as they have been properly sealed (cooked quickly at a high temperature on the outside only) to kill any bacteria on the meat's surface.

If you've cooked food that you're not going to eat immediately, cool it at room temperature (ideally within 90 minutes) and store it in the fridge. Putting hot food in the fridge means it doesn't cool evenly, which can cause food poisoning. Find out more about storing leftovers safely.

Hardgrave's advice is to store food in the fridge below 5°C (41°F). "If your fridge has an internal freezer compartment that is iced up, the fridge could struggle to maintain its temperature," he says.

Washing fruit and vegetables

It's advisable to wash fruit and vegetables under cold running water before you eat them. This helps to remove visible dirt and germs that may be on the surface.

Peeling or cooking fruit and vegetables can also remove these germs. 

Never use washing-up liquid or other household cleaning products, as they might not be safe for human consumption and you may accidentally leave some of the product on the food.

Cleaning up

Wash all worktops and chopping boards before and after cooking, as they can be a source of cross-contamination.

The average kitchen chopping board has around 200% more faecal bacteria on it than the average toilet seat.

Damp sponges and cloths are the perfect place for bacteria to breed. Studies have shown the kitchen sponge to have the highest number of germs in the home. Wash and replace kitchen cloths, sponges and tea towels frequently.



Page last reviewed: 28/11/2012

Next review due: 28/11/2014

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The 1 comments posted are personal views. Any information they give has not been checked and may not be accurate.

User560766 said on 02 June 2011

This is good, concise advice.
May I suggest a minor amendment to the paragraph dealing with cooked food that won't be eaten immediately ?
- Cool it as quickly as possible (try to get it cool enough to put in the fridge within 90 minutes.)
- Portioning food helps to speed up cooling.
- Placing pans/stock pots in a clean sink of cold water helps to speed up cooling (stir the pan occasionally).

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