It’s very important for food handlers to know how to cook food thoroughly and hygienically. Cooking food in the proper manner, for the correct length of time and at the appropriate temperature will not only kill bacteria, it can also make the food tastier, healthier and more nutritional. The best thing about cooking food properly, is that it’s not as difficult as many people think, it’s simply down to following a few simple rules and guidelines.
The importance of cooking food properly cannot be underestimated. It makes our food safer by killing off bacteria and other pathogens that can make people ill, and it ensures that food is more easily digested by our bodies.
Cooking food temperatures
To kill of any harmful bacteria, its vital that you cook food to the correct and safe internal temperature. As a general rule if you cook food at temperatures over 70°C, it will usually kill off any bacteria. To be extra safe you should consider cooking or heating processed foods to above any recommended minimum internal temperature.
Beef 145 degrees F
Casseroles 165 degrees F
Chicken 170 degrees F
Chops 145 degrees F
Ground beef mixtures 160 degrees F
Ground poultry 165 degrees F
Hamburgers 160 degrees F
Ham (raw) 160 degrees F
Lamb steaks 145 degrees F
Lobster (boiled whole) 140 degrees F
Pork (fresh cuts) 160 degrees F
Roast (medium) 145 degrees F
Roast (well done) 160 degrees F
Stuffing 165 degrees F
Turkey 165 degrees F
Veal 145 degrees F
Whole poultry 180 degrees F
Remember that undercooked food can be very dangerous. Raw meat and poultry in particular can contain harmful bacteria such as E. Coli, Salmonella, Listeria and Campylobacter.
Visual signs that food is cooked
All meat should be visually checked to see if it is thoroughly cooked. The colour of food alone is not a reliable indicator that it has been cooked properly, and is now safe to eat. For instance meat can turn brown before all the bacteria in it are all killed. In this case you would have to use a digital food thermometer to be fully sure that it is safe to eat.
Visual signs that food has been properly cooked:
- Steam rises from the food.
- Clear juices (not pink) run from meat and poultry.
- Pork, veal and poultry are white inside, not pink or red.
- Shellfish is opaque and fish flakes easily with a fork.
- Egg yolks are firm, not runny, and egg whites are opaque.
General cooking tips
- Rotate, turn and stir foods midway during the cooking process to stop any possible ‘cold spots’ from developing.
- Metal spoons and other serving utensils must not be left in food while it is being cooked.
- Thoroughly defrost food before cooking.
- Follow the instructions on the packets to get the correct cooking time and temperature.
- Do not reheat food unless it is absolutely necessary.
- Ensure that joints of meat are thoroughly cooked.
- Do not serve any food that has not been properly cooked.
- Once food is cooked, serve it immediately, or keep it hot until serving.
- Do not prepare food too far in advance of service.
- Use separate cutting boards and utensils for handling raw and cooked meat.
Many people believe that it’s safe to serve whole cuts of meat like steak, beef and lamb rare (meaning not cooked in the middle), as long as they have been cooked quickly and at a high temperature on the outside. Thereby killing any bacteria on the meat’s surface. The reasoning behind this is that with whole cuts of meat, any dangerous bacteria only lives on the outside of the meat and not in the middle. Note that this principle does not apply to chopped up or minced meat, as with these bacteria will have been moved around the meat when it is being cut up.
- Joints of meat should be thoroughly cooked.
- For a food safety point of view it’s better to cook two or three small joints rather than one large one.
You should NOT eat these types of meat rare:
- Chicken nuggets
- Rolled joints
Cooking ground meat
When meat is ground, the bacteria present on the surface is mixed all through the ground mixture. To make it safe the meat should be cooked thoroughly.
How to check if chicken, pork, burgers or sausages are cooked
Cut into the middle and check that the meat is;
- No longer pink
- Juices run clear
- Food is piping hot
- Check for steam
To test if food has been properly cooked, check that it’s steaming hot all the way through, and that steam is rising from it. Do this by cutting open the food with a small knife and checking that it’s steaming hot in the middle, if it is then its likely to be steaming hot all the way through (which is what you want). For large dishes, you might need to check it in more than one place.
Cooking chicken and poultry
As poultry is less dense than meat, it’s much easier for bacteria to travel through the flesh. To make it safe, chicken must be cooked all the way through to an internal temperature of at least 170 degrees Fahrenheit. There must be no pinkness anywhere in the meat. Check this by piercing the thickest part of the cooked chicken to check that there is no pink meat inside and that the juices are no longer pink or red.
Washing meat or chicken before cooking
There is no need to wash meat or poultry before cooking it, as any germs that are around will be killed in the cooking process. The washing process could also unnecessarily risk splashing bacteria from the meat onto nearby surfaces.
Fish is properly done when it is opaque, and easily flakes with a fork.
- Cook eggs until both the white and yolk are firm, and not runny.
- Scramble eggs to a firm texture.
- Avoid using recipes in which eggs remain raw or only partially cooked.
Remember that salmonella (a bacteria that causes food poisoning), can grow inside fresh, unbroken eggs. People with weakened immune systems, the elderly, young children and pregnant women are at most risk from this salmonella, it’s therefore important that you do not serve them any food that contains raw eggs.
Chilling cooked foods
Never put food freshly cooked hot foods directly into a fridge or freezer, instead let them cool sufficiently first at room temperature. You can speed up the cooling process by dividing the food into small portions and then placing them in a wide dish.
Keep food hot after cooking it
Bacteria never really goes away completely. The reality is that bacterial growth actually increases as food cools after cooking and temperatures drop. Get around this problem by keeping ready to serve food above the safe temperature of 140°F by using warming trays, chafing dishes and slow cookers etc.
Cooking using microwaves
Microwaves equipped with a turntable can cook unevenly and leave cold spots in the food.
Temperature of meat
- To be sure food has reached a temperature high enough to kill any bacteria that may be present, use a clean food thermometer and test the food in several places.
- Make sure that the thermometer is not touching any bones, since they heat up quicker than the meat and could give you a false reading.
- Always wash the thermometer after using it.
Preventing fires whilst cooking
Unattended ovens and cooking is a leading cause of workplace or home fires.
- Try not to leave cooking food on the stovetop unattended.
- Keep a close eye on food cooking inside the oven.
- Clean cooking surfaces regularly to prevent grease build-up which can ignite.
Always read the instructions on any packaging of food you are about to cook, it can give you vital tips of cooking procedures. For instance if you are about microwave some food, you may find advice on how to cover the food, what type of plates to store it in, how to stir it, and how much ‘stand time’ to allow between cooking the food and eating it.
Remember to pre-heat and warm up the oven properly before placing food inside it to cook.
Benefits of home cooking
- Its a great way to entertain friends with your own cooking.
- For many people it’s a relaxing hobby.
- It can be a lot cheaper than getting a takeaway.
Food hygiene course online