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Preparing food safely

Food hygiene is very important in childcare settings - this article details how to avoid cross-contamination and food poisoning through good hygiene.
cartoon of plate with knife and fork, and cartoon microbes on plate

In week one we mentioned that there are both useful and harmful microbes in food – good food hygiene is vital to avoid foodborne illness (food poisoning).

What do microbes need in order to grow?

Microbes (particularly bacteria) grow in warm, damp conditions. Many harmful bugs:

  • Dislike places that are too hot, and are killed at temperatures above 70°C
  • Multiply very slowly, if at all, at cooler temperatures of 4°C or below
  • Can survive being frozen or live at a low temperatures and can start to multiply again if desirable conditions return

With these conditions in mind, it is important to store and heat food correctly to avoid food spoilage and cross-contamination.

Preventing food spoilage

Food spoilage is the deterioration of the colour, texture and flavour of food. It can be caused by many things, including microbes. Microbes that cause foodborne illness may or may not cause food spoilage. For example, Salmonella bacteria do not change the appearance, smell or taste of contaminated food.

There are four key ways you can prevent food poisoning and food spoilage (sometimes referred to as the 4Cs of food hygiene):

Cleaning – including ‘cleaning as you go’ during food preparation to avoid the build-up of mess and prevent bacteria from spreading.

Cooking food – food should usually be cooked until it has reached 70°C and stayed at that temperature for 2 minutes. General advice is that white meat/mince should be steaming hot and cooked all the way through (juices run clear). More detailed advice for different food can be found on the Food Standards Agency website.

Chilling – storing food correctly, including cooling it down quickly to stop microbes from multiplying. Refrigerators should be kept ≤4°C.

(Preventing) cross-contamination – preventing harmful microbes found on food from spreading to other foods (for example via our hands or kitchen utensils) and causing illness when those foods are eaten.

Storing food in the fridge

Storing food in the fridge should be done correctly to avoid cross-contamination. The image below provides information on where different types of food should be stored.

Cartoon image of fridge, with labels showing where food should be stored. Pre-prepared food (e.g. salad) on top, cooked meat should be covered and kept from raw meat, some food such as jam will need to be stored in fridge once opened, raw meat and fish should be covered and kept on bottom shelf, fruit and vegetables should be stored in the drawers at the bottom of the fridge.

Image taken from e-Bug “Beat the Bugs” pack.

Once out of the fridge, food should only be reheated once. Bacteria grows best at the temperature “danger zone” (between 5°C and 60° C). Food will be at this temperature at each cooling and heating stage.


As mentioned in week one, proper handwashing with soap is important to get rid of harmful microbes. Ensure you follow the six steps of handwashing before preparing food, as this can also reduce contamination risk.

Write a comment below telling us what type of food hygiene measures are necessary in your place of work.

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Preventing and Managing Infections in Childcare and Pre-school

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