The risk of foodborne illness can be greatly reduced by the correct handling, storing and cooking of food.

Shelf life

All food has a limited shelf life. This varies depending on the food type, how it is packaged and how carefully it is stored.

If you store your food properly you will keep it in good condition, safe from the growth of food poisoning bacteria; you will also reduce wastage and this will save you money.

Food should be always be stored as recommended by the manufacturer’s instructions on the package (when provided). It is the manufacturer's responsibility to determine the shelf life of food.

The 'use-by date' is the date after which food should not be consumed because of health and safety reasons (even if the packet is unopened).

The 'best-before date' indicates the end of the period in which the food is in peak condition and is applied to foods which are not regarded as high risk with regard to food poisoning.

Some food packages are labelled with specific instructions, such as 'Refrigerate after opening' or 'Consume within 3 days after opening'. These instructions must be followed to minimise the risk of food poisoning.

Food storage

Tips for storing refrigerated perishable foods:

  • use a refrigerator thermometer to check your refrigerator is at or below 5 °C
  • avoid overloading the refrigerator; space between items allows cold air to move over the food
  • do not buy swollen chilled packages, this indicates bacteria have grown in the food
  • ready to eat foods (for example salad or cooked quiche) should be stored on shelves above uncooked food such as raw meat, to prevent any juices from the raw food dripping onto ready to eat foods
  • raw meats, fish and poultry should be stored well wrapped or contained to prevent their juices leaking onto other foods or the inside of the refrigerator.

Re-hydrated foods and opened cans need to be treated as perishable and refrigerated accordingly.

Do not store opened foods in cans as tin and iron can dissolve into the food spoiling the flavour.

Transfer the leftover food to a glass or plastic container before refrigerating.

Safe and unsafe temperatures

Use of correct storage temperatures for food is extremely important. Between 5 °C and 60 °C is called the 'temperature danger zone'. This is the temperature range in which potentially harmful bacteria can multiply.

Perishable food should be stored at or below 5 °C, or at or above 60 °C to prevent growth of harmful bacteria.

Correct cooking temperatures are very important especially for some meats, sausages and poultry. The temperature of all parts of minced, rolled or stuffed meats should reach at least 75 °C during cooking. This can be measured with a thermometer or can be recognised as very hot in the mouth.

If food is to be held hot for some time after cooking and before serving, it should be held at or above 60 °C. Or if the food is to be retained for serving at a subsequent meal or other occasion it should be refrigerated promptly.

Make sure poultry, such as a whole chicken, reaches at least 75 °C during cooking. Alternatively, cook until the juices run clear when pierced at the thickest point (such as the middle of drumstick).

When reheating refrigerated food, the centre of the food should reach at least 75 °C.

Frozen foods

Freezing food at -18 °C stops bacteria from growing and slows down chemical changes which may affect the quality of food.

Frozen food should be placed straight in the freezer when you return home from shopping.

Some foods, such as vegetables, chops and steaks, can be cooked directly from the frozen state. Food such as minced, rolled or stuffed meats and poultry, should be completely thawed before cooking. This is best done in a refrigerator at or below 5 °C.

If needed at short notice, packaged frozen food can be defrosted under cool running water or in a microwave. Thawed food which will be cooked (e.g. raw meat), may be refrozen but quality will be reduced.

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