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Healthy eating health centre

How to prepare food safely

NHS ChoicesMedical Reference

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Before you start preparing food, always wash your hands with soap and hot water. You should also wash your hands after touching raw meat, poultry and eggs, and after using the toilet, after gardening, touching the bin or handling pets.

Do not forget to dry your hands too, as germs spread more easily in moist conditions.

Uncooked meat, poultry, eggs and fish can easily contaminate other foods, utensils and surfaces, so make sure you wipe surfaces and wash up as soon as you finish preparing raw foods (see kitchen hygiene).

Checking food is cooked properly

Bacteria are killed by heat, so make sure food is thoroughly cooked throughout before you serve it:

  • Make a small cut in the middle of the food to check it is piping hot. Steam should come out.
  • If you bake a cake or quiche, the middle should be set.
  • If you cook meat such as pork, poultry, sausages or burgers, the juice should run clear. There should be no pink or red meat.


When you cook food on a barbecue, it can be hard to tell when it is done. Undercooked meat can lead to food poisoning. This is how to barbecue food safely:

  • Light the barbecue well in advance and wait until the coals are glowing red. Putting food on to cook before the flames have died down simply burns the surface and does not cook the inside.
  • Turn food often as you cook it and move the grill shelf up a level if it starts to burn.
  • Try cooking meat in the oven and then finishing it off on the barbecue, especially if you are cooking for lots of people.
  • Fully defrost frozen meat before you cook it, and check everything is cooked thoroughly and piping hot all the way through before you serve it.
  • Keep raw and cooked foods separate and use different plates and utensils for them.
  • Keep salads, cheeses and dips in the fridge until the last minute.


If you are having a picnic, leave perishable food such as cheese and meat in the fridge until the last minute. Other tips are:

  • Use a cool pack to keep cheese and meat cold in the picnic box.
  • Wash and cut up fruit, salad and vegetables at home.
  • Try to wash your hands before eating, or take antiseptic wipes.
  • Keep food covered as much as possible, as picnics can attract insects and birds.
  • Take rubbish home with you if you cannot find a bin to dispose of it.

Parties and buffets

If you are preparing food for a party or buffet, wait until the last minute to take perishable food such as sandwiches and meat out of the fridge. Try not to leave food out for more than a couple of hours.

Cool the leftovers as quickly as possible, put them back in the fridge and eat them within two days. If they have been left out for over two hours, or if in doubt, throw leftovers away.

When reheating leftovers, check they are piping hot in the middle and do not reheat them more than once.


  • Antiseptic: Antiseptic is a substance that reduces the growth and development of germs.
Medical Review: January 14, 2009

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