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Food safety and meat hygiene

While you may be familiar with the 'C' rules of food hygiene – clean, cook, and chill – here is a bit of a refresher.

Clean, cook, chill

Following the 3 Cs can help keep you safe from bugs in food and reduce the chances of food poisoning.

Clean

Good food hygiene starts with clean hands, but it’s also important to make sure your cooking area and tools are clean. Before preparing food, make sure that you wash all surfaces, chopping boards, and utensils with soap and water (and rinse them afterwards). You also want to use different sponges or cloths for the dishes, the bench, and the floor and change reuseable dish cloths or sponges regularly.

Here are a few other things you should look to do:

  1. Use paper towels to clean up messy spills like raw meat juices, then wipe with a cloth and hot water and detergent.
  2. Always cover stored food – even in the fridge or cupboard. You should also cover food when eating outside, to keep out unwanted insects and bugs.
  3. Use plastic film or foil to cover foods, or put into containers with tight-sealing lids.
  4. Keep raw meat and chicken away from ready-to-eat food, fruit and vegetables. Store at the bottom of the fridge to prevent any juices – which can contain harmful bacteria – from dripping onto other foods
Cook

When cooking meat, make sure that it is cooked through to kill harmful bacteria. You can use a meat thermometer to check temperatures at the middle of the thickest part (internal temperature should be 75°C).

You should also defrost frozen foods thoroughly, or they won't cook properly in the middle. Defrost food in your fridge overnight, or use the defrost setting on your microwave.

Make sure that you keep raw and cooked foods separate – use one set of utensils for raw meat and another set for cooked food. You should also put cooked items on a clean plate, not one that's been used for raw ingredients.

Refrigerate or freeze any leftovers within 2 hours. Cool hot food in small portions to speed cooling, then refrigerate in a covered container. Reheat leftovers until steaming hot (over 75 degrees Celsius) and do not reheat more than once.

Lastly, remember to use different knives when cutting meat and chopping your veggies or bread.

Chill

When given the moist, warm environment they like, food poisoning bacteria grow very quickly. Most harmful bacteria cannot grow at low refrigeration temperatures, so keep perishable foods cold (below 4ºC) and use as soon as possible.

You should also:

  • Cool hot foods for up to 30 minutes before refrigerating to prevent raising the temperature of stored food.
  • Never leave food at room temperature for more than 2 hours. If the room temperature is warm, you should refrigerate sooner as bacteria multiply more quickly.
  • Keep your fridge clean, and wipe up any spills immediately. And don't overfill your fridge – this can mean some food isn't kept cool.

Bacteria and spoilage

The bacteria that can contaminate food are always in the environment. Proper handling, good personal and kitchen hygiene and appropriate cooking are your protections against food poisoning.

Bacteria are extremely small organisms that cannot be seen by the naked eye and are everywhere. Some bacteria can grow on meat and produce chemicals we recognise as spoilage or 'gone off'.

Some bacteria are harmful to human health. These harmful bacteria are called pathogens. Pathogens on meat can cause an infection in the body, like gastro-enteritis, or they can produce toxins that cause food poisoning.

You cannot always rely on how meat looks or smells. This is why it is important to keep meat at a low temperature (below 4ºC) and handle it hygienically.

Mince meat

Take extra care with hygiene when handling and storing mince and finely sliced or diced meats. Remember the more surface area of meat that is exposed, the greater the possibility of bacterial contamination.

Minced meat and hamburger patties should be thoroughly cooked to an internal temperature of 75ºC; they should not be served undercooked, rare or pink.

Meat is a perishable food requiring high standards of hygiene

Before and after handling meat:
  • Wash equipment thoroughly in hot water
  • Wash hands with soap and water and dry hands thoroughly
Working with meat:
  • Keep all work surfaces, utensils and cutting boards clean
  • Use seperate cutting boards for meat and vegetables
  • Always use a clean, sharp knife for preparing cuts

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