Preparing food safely

It's very important to prepare food safely to help stop harmful bacteria from spreading and growing. You can take some steps to help protect yourself and your family from the spread of harmful bacteria.

Wash your hands

Your hands can easily spread bacteria around the kitchen and onto food. It's important to always wash your hands thoroughly with soap and warm water:

  • before starting to prepare food
  • after touching raw food such as meat, poultry and vegetables
  • after going to the toilet
  • after touching the bin
  • after touching pets

Don't forget to dry your hands thoroughly as well, because wet hands spread bacteria more easily.

Keep worktops clean

Before you start preparing food, it’s important worktops, kitchen utensils and chopping boards are clean. If they’ve been touched by raw meat, poultry, eggs or vegetables you'll need to wash them thoroughly.

You should change dish cloths and tea towels regularly to avoid any bacteria growing on the material. 

Separate raw food from ready-to-eat food

Raw foods such as meat, fish and vegetables may contain harmful bacteria that can spread very easily by touching:

  • other foods
  • worktops
  • chopping boards
  • knives

You should keep raw foods away from ready-to-eat food, such as salad, fruit and bread. This is because these types of food won't be cooked before you eat them, so any bacteria that get onto the food won't be killed.

To help stop bacteria from spreading:

  • don't let raw food such as meat, fish or vegetables touch other food
  • don't prepare ready-to-eat food using a chopping board or knife that you have used to prepare raw food, unless they have been washed thoroughly first
  • wash your hands thoroughly after touching raw meat, fish or vegetables and before you touch anything else
  • cover raw meat or fish and store on the bottom shelf of the fridge where they can't touch or drip onto other foods
  • don’t wash raw meat before cooking 
  • wash, peel or cook vegetables unless these are described as 'ready-to-eat' on the packaging

Check the label

It's important to read food labels to make sure everything you’re going to use has been stored correctly (according to any storage instructions) and that none of the food is past its ‘use by’ date.

Food that goes off quickly usually has storage instructions on the label that say how long you can keep the food and whether it needs to go in the fridge.

This sort of food often has special packaging to help keep it fresh for longer. But it will go off quickly once you’ve opened it. This is why the storage instructions also tell you how long the food will keep once the packaging has been opened. For example, you might see ‘eat within two  days of opening’ on the label.

Use by dates

You will also see ‘use by’ dates on food that goes off quickly. You shouldn’t use any food after the ‘use by’ date even if the food looks and smells fine, because it might contain harmful bacteria.

Best before dates

The 'best before' dates marked on most foods are more about quality than safety. When this date runs out, it doesn't mean that the food will be harmful, but its flavour, colour or texture might begin to deteriorate.

An exception to this is eggs, which have a best before date of no more than 28 days after they are laid. After this date the quality of the egg will deteriorate and if any salmonella bacteria are present, they could multiply to high levels and could make you ill. If you do intend to use an egg after its best before date, make sure that you only use it in dishes where it will be fully cooked, so that both yolk and white are solid, such as in a cake or as a hard-boiled egg.

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