All foods, if handled properly, can be safe. Most instances of food poisoning do not have to happen at all, and can be avoided by following simple guidelines.

Handling food properly and safely is essential to preventing food borne illness. This page sets out to offer you the highest quality information on how to handle food safely, making it safe to eat, and stopping it from spoiling. What you read here is applicable to a wide range of work and home environments.  You will learn how to prepare, cook, serve and clean-up food in a proper manner. What you see on this page is knowledge that you would otherwise have to obtain through on-the-job training, self-study or relevant work experience. You will learn about:

  • Preparing food in a safe manner.
  • Serving food in a safe manner
  • Stopping the spread of bacteria through cross contamination
  • Routines to follow and habits to avoid.
  • Presenting food in a hygienic and appetising way.

The importance of following proper safe food handling procedures

From the time the food is delivered to the minute it is served to the customer, food safety should be at the top of the list. Food business operators in particular should bear in mind that they are required by law, to ensure that any of their staff who handle food receive appropriate training in hygiene matters that are in line with their work activity.

There is little margin for error in any stage of food handling, whether it is preparation, processing, packaging, storage, transportation or offering it for sale. Also, note that if you prepare high risk foods the standards required of you will be much stricter than if you only prepare low risk foods.

  • Protects people from getting sick.
  • Protects your businesses reputation with customers.
  • Protects your job.

The handling of food can take place during;

  • Cooking
  • Cooling
  • Hot holding
  • Preparation
  • Purchase
  • Receipt
  • Re-heating
  • Serving
  • Storage

General safe food handling tips:

  • Do not wipe your hands on your clothing as this can easily transfer microbes and bacteria.
  • Use paper towels to clean up during food preparation and serving.
  • Change gloves, utensils and dishes when changing functions. For instance use one pair of gloves for handling raw meat, and another pair handling fresh vegetables.
  • Never run in food production or service areas
  • Try to have just one person serve food that is about to be eaten.
  • Prepare precooked frozen foods exactly as the directions/instructions on the packaging state.
  • Have foods ready not any longer than necessary before serving time.
  • Prepare and cook only as much food as you intend to use.
  • Wash and sanitize flatware or other utensils, which fall to the floor.
  • Do not taste foods with any utensil used either to mix or stir food.
  • Pick up and hold all tableware by the handles.
  • Store tableware away from dust.
  • Be careful when lifting lids from hot food.
  • Turn handles of saucepans away from the front of the stove when cooking.

Picking up ready to eat food
Whenever possible always try to handle any food items that are about to be eaten, with a utensil (i.e. tongs) rather than your bare hands.

Hand washing
Clean hands are essential for working in a kitchen environment. It’s very easy for bacteria to spread from the food we touch to door handles, plates, cutlery and so on. Hand washing is one of the best ways to prevent the spread of germs between people.

When washing your hands try to;

  • Use a soap dispenser rather than a bar of soap.
  • Wash in a sink that has hot and cold running water.
  • Wash in a sink that is separate from one that is used to wash foodstuff and utensils.
  • Dry your hands with paper towels.

Wash your hands after:

  • Starting work
  • Using the toilet
  • Handling raw and cooked foods
  • Taking breaks
  • Eating
  • Drinking
  • Smoking
  • Coughing, sneezing or blowing their nose
  • Touching your hair
  • Playing with pets or handling animals
  • Scratching
  • Handling refuse or waste materials
  • Handling cleaning chemicals

Procedure to washing your hands properly

  • Wet your hands
  • Rub your hands and wrists with soap
  • Lather the soap for 20 seconds
  • Rinse thoroughly
  • Dry with paper towels or a hot air dryer (remember that wet hands can carry and transfer more germs than dry ones)
  • Turn of the taps with your elbows (if possible) or use a paper towel to do so.

Hand basins and sinks
The sink you wash your hands in should be separate from ones where you prepare food or washing dishes. It should be in an accessible place, as this encourage people to use it and make it more likely to be used.

Gloves are ideal for helping you to minimize bare hand contact with any cooked and ready-to-eat foods. They are there to protect both the food and the worker (i.e. they can be used to cover damaged skin or protect hands from risk of developing skin conditions).

Gloves must not be regarded as a “second skin”. They can become contaminated with bacteria in exactly the same way that hands can. They are not a substitute for good personal hygiene and hand washing.

  • Replace gloves after each task.
  • Wash and dry hands thoroughly before putting on any gloves
  • Always use single use fresh gloves.
  • Throw away plastic gloves after one use.
  • The improper use of gloves can increase rather than reduce food hygiene risks, for instance a punctured glove can lead to glove material ending up in food.
  • Gloves must only be used for one particular task.

Change gloves:

  • At least once every hour.
  • If they become contaminated.
  • If they tear.
  • When switching between handling raw and ready-to-eat foods.
  • When changing tasks.
  • After mopping, taking rubbish out, sweeping and cleaning.

Handling dishes, crockery and cutlery

  • Try not to touch any part of a dish or plate which will come into contact with a person’s food or mouth.
  • Pick up cups and mugs by their handles, your fingers should be outside cups.
  • Place teaspoons so they protrude from a dish.
  • Pull out disposable cups from the base of a tube, this prevents your fingers from going inside the cup.
  • Do not use plates which have become cracked or chipped.

Try to avoid wearing outdoor clothes in a food preparation area, instead wear clean, and where appropriate, washable protective clothing.


  • A clean apron
  • Gloves
  • Hairnet
  • Closed-in shoes to protect your feet, in case of hot spills or breakages.
  • Shoes with slip-resistant soles, to stop you from slipping on hot spillages, etc.

Do not:

  • Use your apron to wipe your hands on.
  • Cook in loose fitting clothes.
  • Work in the kitchen in soiled clothing.

Personal hygiene
Food service workers must maintain a high degree of personal cleanliness when receiving, storing, cooking, processing, packaging, transporting or disposing of food.
Here are some basic tips to follow;

  • Keep fingers away from your face, mouth, hair, skin and other parts of the body.
  • Don’t brush or comb your hair when you are near food.
  • Wash your hands frequently.
  • Never smoke in food areas.
  • Do not handle food with bare hands – use gloves instead.
  • Do not eat or chew gum in food handling areas.
  • Don’t cough, sneeze, spit or smoke near food and avoid touching your nose, teeth, ears and hair, or scratching when handling food.
  • Do not use fingers to sample food. Always use a clean spoon.


Using knives
Always handle knives and other sharp equipment with care. Accidents involving knives are common in the catering industry, and usually involve cuts to a person non-knife hand and fingers. When using a knife always:

  • Cut away from yourself or downwards on a chopping board to avoid cutting yourself.
  • Cut on a stable surface.
  • Keep knives clean, sanitised and grease free, all of these will help you have a firmer grip.


  • Use a knife suitable for the task and for the food you are cutting.
  • Keep knives sharp.
  • Carry a knife with the blade pointing downwards.

Using a knife
When using a knife remember to focus on your:

  • Stance or posture
  • Grip on the handle
  • Guiding or free hand

Do not:

  • Leave sharp knives loose in a drawer.
  • Put knives in the sink.
  • Use a knife as a can opener.
  • Carry knives while carrying other objects.
  • Engage in horseplay with a knife.
  • Carry a knife in your pocket.
  • Run your fingers down the edge of a knife to test the sharpness.
  • Attempt to catch a falling knife.
  • Put in the dishwasher.

Washing knives
To prevent rusting and cross contamination, always wash and dry your knife immediately after you have finished using it. Do not let knives soak, especially if they have wood handles as the wood can expand when soaked in water.

Storing your knives
Store them in a special knife rack or wooden block. This way you can help keep the blades sharp by keeping the edges away from hard objects that can dull the blades.

Hot holding and cold holding food
If you are holding foods for service, such as on a buffet line or in a cafeteria, then try to keep hot foods hot and cold foods cold. Hot holding equipment along with chafing dishes, slow cookers, and warming trays all help to keep ready to eat food out of the danger zone. All of this equipment is for hot holding only, and should not be used to reheat or cook food.


  • Preheat hot holding equipment before you put any food in it. If you don’t then you’ll be putting food into cold equipment which encourage bacteria growth.
  • Limit the hot holding of food to a maximum of two hours.
  • To distribute the heat evenly, make sure to stir the food at regular intervals.
  • Keep the food covered, this not only retains the heat but also stops contaminates from falling into the food.
  • Bring out the food as close as possible to the time of service.
  • Keep platters refrigerated until it is time to warm them up for serving.

Pot handles
Turn pot handles away from the front of the stove. This stops children from grabbing them, and adults from accidentally bumping into them.

Perishable foods
After, a delivery always unload perishable foods first and immediately refrigerate them.

Using kitchen appliances

  • Make sure that all necessary guards are in place before operating any equipment.
  • Do not distract a colleague who is operating dangerous kitchen appliances like mincers or mixers etc.
  • Do not to operate any machinery or use any chemical until it has been assessed by a qualified person.
  • Make sure you are properly trained to use any kitchen appliances.
  • Wash and put away appliances that are not being used, do not leave them lying around.
  • Return equipment to it’s correct storage place or location.
  • Turn off all equipment and appliances at the end of each shift.

Children and non food workers
Do not allow children, and people not involved in any cooking to roam or loiter around a food preparation area.

Work surfaces
Make sure that work surfaces and equipment are visually clean, this goes a long way towards ensuring that they are free from high levels of harmful bacteria.

Clean as you go
Train yourself to ‘clean as you go’, for instance cleaning up any spillages immediately.

Before opening a can of food always clean the top of it first. Remember that once the can is opened, any food which is not used immediately must be quickly stored in food grade containers and placed in a refrigerator.

Can openers
Food can be left on any can opener after it has been used, it’s therefore advisable to clean it after each use.

Never place cooked food on a unwashed plate that had previously held raw meat, poultry, or seafood.

Food labels
Take the time to read product labels very carefully, and look for advisory statements like ‘may contain ingredient X’.

Close oven doors straight after removing or adding food items.

Meat and poultry
Keep meat and poultry in its packaging until just before using.

Towels and sponges

  • Replace and wash dish towels and sponges often to prevent the spread of harmful bacteria throughout the kitchen.
  • Do not use damp cloths when lifting hot items of equipment.

Uncovered food
Try not to leave food unattended or uncovered for long periods.

Cutting boards
Use separate cutting boards, dishes, utensils and cooking equipment for vegetables, raw meat and cooked meats.

When handling plates and trays do not touch eating surfaces with fingers.

Unused sauces
Keep unused condiments, marinades and sauces separate from leftover ones.

Storing food in the fridge
Store raw meat, poultry and seafood by tightly wrapping it and then placing it on the bottom shelf of a refrigerator. This basically prevents the raw juices from dripping on other food.

  • Refrigerate or freeze perishables, prepared food and leftovers within 2 hours.

Do not wear any watches, rings, bracelets or other jewellery when working with food. Germs can hide under them or just as worse they could accidentally fall off into the food.

Use oven mitts when taking hot dishes from an oven or microwave. Do not use a wet oven mitt, as it can present a scald danger if the moisture in the mitt is heated.


Related links
Food hygiene course online