Safety and first aid

Food safety tips

Taking care when you buy, store and handle food makes it last longer and can also reduce the risk of food poisoning.

Protect your health by following these food safety tips.

Buying food
  • Buy the best quality food you can.
  • To reduce the risk of contamination, avoid buying damaged cans and torn packets.
  • Always check the label. Is the product near its best before or use by date? Follow the recommended storage conditions, for example ‘refrigerate after opening’.
  • Plan your shopping trip so perishable foods are purchased last. Transport these foods in an esky and place them in a fridge or freezer as soon as possible. Do not keep perishable foods outside of refrigeration for longer than 2 hours.
  • Avoid buying perishable foods such as dairy products, meat, fish and poultry (such as chicken, duck or turkey) that have been stored out of fridges or above the loadline in freezers. The loadline is the level to which foods may be stored in freezers and remain at the correct temperature. Sometimes, this line cannot be seen but it is usually about 5 cm below the rim of the cabinet.
Storing food
  • Keep food covered to protect it from dust, insects, sneezes, etc. Always use a clean cover – never re-use plastic or aluminium wrap.
  • Keep raw food, including meat, separated from cooked food. Always wrap and store cooked foods above raw foods in the fridge.
  • Keep perishable foods hot (above 60 °C) or cold (below 5 °C). Check the temperature of your fridge regularly – in hot weather it may need adjusting to keep food cold.
  • Arrange food in your fridge so cold air can easily circulate around it. Never overstock your fridge. Fridges work better and are cheaper to run if they are defrosted regularly.
Time and temperature control

Bacteria grow easily on high-risk foods such as:

  • dairy products
  • meat (including poultry) fish and seafood.

Given time and the right temperature conditions, bacteria can multiply quickly to dangerous levels.

Bacteria grow best at temperatures between 5 °C and 60 °C. This temperature range is known as the ‘temperature danger zone’. To keep high-risk foods out of the temperature danger zone:

  • Always keep high risk foods at the following temperatures:
    • above 60 °C  for foods such as roasts, stews, casseroles, soups and curries
    • below 5 °C for foods including sliced meats, desserts, dairy products, sandwiches and salads.
  • Always defrost frozen food in the fridge or in a microwave oven set on ‘defrost’. Defrosting food on the bench top can be unsafe, and increase bacteria growth in foods as they defrost. 
  • Make sure food is cooked thoroughly. Joints of meat and poultry should reach at least 75 °C in their centre – this will kill most harmful bacteria. Make sure meat and poultry juices are clear, not pink.
  • Cook and serve food immediately – never leave high-risk food out at room temperature.
  • Refrigerate promptly all cooked and perishable food at or below 5° C. Portion food before cooling, for example slice meats and cut large poultry into smaller portions. Place liquid foods such as casseroles in shallow containers (no more than 5cm deep) to allow for rapid cooling and place in the fridge as soon as it stops steaming.
  • If reheating food make sure it is reheated until steaming hot.
  • Do not store food too long, even in the fridge. Keep for a maximum of 3 days.
Handling food

Bacteria cannot move on their own – they are spread from one place to another by poor food handling practices or by contact with pets, flies or other pests. To stop the spread of bacteria:

  • Always wash your hands thoroughly with soap and hot water:
    • before handling food, especially cooked food
    • after going to the toilet
    • between handling raw and cooked foods.
  • Avoid using bare hands to touch food. Use tongs, forks and spoons whenever possible.
  • Always clean and sanitise work surfaces and utensils. Sanitisers kill bacteria, while detergents only remove dirt and grease.
  • Wash fruits and vegetables, especially if eaten raw.
  • Use safe, treated water when preparing food and cleaning.
  • Use separate cutting boards and knives for each type of food, for example raw meat, fish, vegetables and cooked foods.
  • Use paper towels whenever possible. Dishcloths and towels can carry bacteria.
  • Protect food preparation areas and food from pests, insects and pets.

More information

Contact the environmental health officer in your local government area (external site).

You can also contact the Department of Health Environmental Health Directorate on phone 9388 4999.

Remember

  • Take care when you buy, store and handle food – your food will keep longer and it reduces your risk of food poisoning.

Acknowledgements

Food Unit, Public Health


This publication is provided for education and information purposes only. It is not a substitute for professional medical care. Information about a therapy, service, product or treatment does not imply endorsement and is not intended to replace advice from your healthcare professional. Readers should note that over time currency and completeness of the information may change. All users should seek advice from a qualified healthcare professional for a diagnosis and answers to their medical questions.

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