Food hygiene in the kitchen

Food hygiene in the kitchen

Leiths School of Food and Wine
0 recipes
Published by
Quadrille Publishing
Peter Cassidy

These basic guidelines should be followed whenever you prepare, cook and store food.

Storage in the fridge

Different foods should be kept apart. Raw meat or fish should be kept on the bottom shelf of the fridge so their juices cannot drip onto cooked food. Eggs keep better if stored pointed end downwards and, as they have porous shells, should be kept away from strong smelling food, as they will absorb the flavour. The fridge should ideally be kept at 4°C, although up to 8°C is considered safe.

Stock rotation

Keep an eye on expiry dates and make sure you use ‘older’ foods first. Don’t mix leftovers, or add the remains of a carton of milk to a new one, as the newer food will then perish faster and any ‘use by’ date will be incorrect.


This is where bacteria from uncooked food are passed to food that will not be cooked further before eating. Most bacteria will be destroyed when cooked to a high temperature and are not any cause for alarm, as long as cross-contamination does not happen. Professional kitchens use separate chopping boards for food that will be cooked to a high temperature and food that will not. At home, scrubbing your chopping boards well and washing all kitchen cloths and utensils between tasks will suffice. Note that vegetables and fruit should be washed thoroughly before being prepared or eaten.


Food should only be loosely covered or not covered at all as it cools. It should then be well wrapped before placing in the fridge or freezer to prevent cross-contamination, drying out and becoming tainted by odorous food. Butter and milk easily take on other flavours, so they should not be left uncovered. Vegetables and fruit keep better unwrapped – or with any plastic wrapping pierced – in a vegetable drawer if the fridge has one, or above any raw meat or fish if not.

Food temperatures

Initially food should be brought to a high temperature, to kill any bacteria. If using a temperature probe, this should register at least 63°C (for commercial purposes the core temperature should reach 70°C for 2 minutes). When cooking at home without a probe, use a metal skewer and insert it into the centre of the food for 10 seconds, then test it carefully on your wrist, which is more sensitive than fingertips; it should be too hot to keep on your skin.

Particular care must be taken when cooking chicken and minced or cubed stewing beef and lamb, which are more prone to salmonella and need to be cooked properly. If serving meat or fish raw, such as for beef carpaccio or sashimi, it must be of the highest quality, very fresh and from a trusted source.

Food can be kept warm ready to serve for a short while, if it was piping hot to start with and has not cooled to below serving temperature. Food should not be cooked, kept warm, cooled and then heated again to serve.

When reheating food, make sure it is piping hot all the way through and stir to distribute the heat if you can.

Food cooked in advance should be cooled as quickly as possible and then refrigerated or frozen until required. To speed cooling, spread the food over a large surface area or stand a pan in a sink of cold water and stir regularly; don’t cover the food as that will slow the cooling process.

Using frozen food

Food should be left to defrost on a plate in the fridge overnight (or longer in the case of the Christmas turkey) so that it defrosts throughout and the outside doesn’t get too warm before the middle has thawed. If you use a microwave to defrost, you need to cook the food straight away, as it will have warmed up, and may even have cooked in patches. Frozen cooked food must be thawed before reheating and then checked carefully to ensure it is very hot all the way through. It is not advisable to refreeze food that has already been frozen and defrosted.

Using leftover food

Leftover food must be cooled, then wrapped and chilled as soon as possible. It should be either eaten cold or reheated to at least 63°C for 2 minutes, ideally within 24 hours. Take particular care with leftover cooked rice.

Cooking for vulnerable groups

The elderly, pregnant women, those with underlying illnesses and very young children may have impaired resistance to infection, so attention to hygiene must be meticulous in these cases. It is also sensible to avoid raw or lightly cooked eggs, pâtés and unpasteurised soft ripened cheeses such as Brie, Camembert and blue-veined cheeses, and to reheat cooked chilled meals to piping hot rather than serve them cold. Advice on feeding pregnant women and babies is ever-changing, but current information is available on the NHS website.

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