Last updated: 16.10.23

What Are the Basic Food Hygiene Rules?

Any business that produces or sells food in the UK is required by law to follow food safety regulations and rules. These regulations are designed to provide guidance and rules for everything from farms to butchers to restaurants that deal with food, ensuring that what we eat is safe to consume.

Businesses need to put these regulations into practice if they want to be successful and keep their customers coming back. You’ll probably have noticed the food hygiene 'scores on the doors' rating posters displayed in cafés and takeaways, and a less-than-perfect rating can easily make customers think twice about eating there.

Employees who are food handlers should be trained in food safety, sanitation, and personal hygiene. In this article, we explain some of the key basic food hygiene rules that will be covered in employee food hygiene training and explore the key legislation that informs these rules.

What Is Food Hygiene and Safety?

Food hygiene and safety refers to the practices and procedures involved in managing and controlling food safety hazards. Everybody makes decisions and takes action informed by their understanding of food safety, but people who work in businesses which produce, prepare or serve food have a legal responsibility to follow the basic rules of food hygiene.

Food safety and hygiene rules involve a wide range of different guidelines that outline the best way to reduce the risks that are associated with food, such as contamination. Having good food hygiene means observing and upholding official food safety and hygiene standards so that you’re taking every possible action to remove the presence of hazards in a food consumption, preparation and packaging environment.

Why Is Food Hygiene Important?

Understanding why food hygiene is important is just as essential as following the relevant guidelines to make sure you and the people consuming the food are safe. When you know why you’re following hygiene rules for food workers, you’re more likely to understand the risks and remember the necessary precautions that reduce these risks from occurring.

Food hygiene is important because it ensures that food is safe to eat. If you’re handling and serving food that is not safe to eat, because of contamination or something else, you put yourself and the consumer at risk of potentially very serious illness.

Not only is it important to protect the health of yourself and the people around you, but if you work for a food business then you have a legal duty to keep your customers safe from hazards related to the food you serve. Failing to do so, whether this is through making customers ill or failing to follow health and safety procedures, could put you at risk of legal action and fines.

Not only could the business have to pay a fine or legal costs, but failing to uphold food safety standards may mean the business being shut down. Alternatively, if word gets out that a business has poor food hygiene, this is likely to impact its reputation and reduce the number of customers that visit, which may also lead to the business having to close down.

The Basic Rules of Food Hygiene

The basic rules of food hygiene can be split into four categories that are often referred to as ‘the four Cs’. Within these four categories are some of the most important basic rules of food hygiene, which we’ll list below.


  • All food preparation and serving surfaces and equipment should be cleaned between uses
  • Appropriate cleaning products should be used for different areas and utensils to ensure appropriate decontamination every time
  • Any spillages should be cleaned up immediately as you go
  • Cleaning products should be stored separately from ingredients


  • All food products should be cooked thoroughly and checked before serving
  • Core temperature guidelines should be followed for different products to ensure sufficient cooking
  • Hot held food must be kept at 63°C or above
  • Any cooked food being reheated should always be heated to the appropriate temperature
  • Cooked food should only be reheated once


  • Perishable, cooked and ready-to-eat food must be kept chilled at the correct temperature
  • Chilled food must be stored in the correct section of a fridge
  • Fridge temperatures should be monitored to ensure chilled food doesn’t change temperature
  • Frozen food must be properly defrosted before use
  • Food should be frozen as soon as it is prepared


  • Raw food must be sealed and stored separately from all other ingredients
  • Equipment must be cleaned when it is used for different food products
  • Different equipment should be used to prepare and store high-risk food, like raw meat
  • Hands must be washed before and after preparing food
  • Separate fridges should be used for raw and ready to eat food, if possible
  • Clean PPE, like aprons, gloves and hair nets, should always be worm and never be reused

Personal hygiene when handling food is also an area where there are a lot of hygiene rules for food. These rules include:

  • Washing your hands properly when required
  • Never coughing or sneezing near food
  • Avoiding working when you’re unwell
  • Wearing clean clothes when handling and serving food
  • Removing jewellery, avoiding nail polish, tying long hair back and covering long beards

There are many more specific hygiene rules for food workers, but those are some of the most important that employees will be expected to follow no matter the environment they’re working with food in.

Who Is Responsible for Enforcing Food Hygiene Legislation?

The government agency that issues food safety ratings and ensures that businesses know the rules is the Food Standards Agency (FSA). It was set up by the government but acts independently as a food hygiene authority to enforce and promote food safety and good standards.

Wales and Northern Ireland also have their own branches of the FSA, and in Scotland, food safety is enforced by Food Standards Scotland.

The FSA has established the most important food hygiene rules in the kitchen and enforces EHO visits to ensure that food businesses are following these rules. 

Food Safety Regulations in Britain

There are a range of food safety regulations and legislation in Britain that inform food hygiene guidance. It’s important for employers to be familiar with these regulations and implement them properly to avoid penalties, and, of course, ensure their customers are getting the best standards of food preparation and hygiene. 

It’s also important as these businesses are liable if there’s a problem with something sold and the staff member doing the actual selling wasn’t responsible for this issue. By understanding the key pieces of food safety legislation, you can ensure that you’re following all relevant guidance and understand what you’re legally responsible for.

General Food Law Regulations

2002 saw the introduction of EU-wide laws on food imports and exports, which are currently called the General Food Law Regulations 2004. These were designed to make sure any food imported to or exported from the EU complies with EU regulations on safety and hygiene. 

These laws also covered the labelling and advertising of food, and that it should never be misleading to customers. These laws have more recently been updated with the introduction of Natasha’s Law, which controls how prepacked for direct sale (PPDS) food is labelled.

The General Food Law Regulations introduced measures for tracing the food production chain, so information can always be found on where food has come from. It also introduced rules for recalling food products and notifying customers if there is an issue.

The Food Safety Act 1990

The Food Safety Act 1990 determined the rules around making food safe, making it a criminal offence to make or produce food in such a way as to cause harm if it’s being sold for human consumption. This covers adding or taking away ingredients or components, as well as how the food is treated or processed. 

It also sets out how consumers should expect a reasonable level of quality, and how food must be described and presented clearly in terms of its ingredients and preparation. These laws were expanded in 1995 to include the whole food production chain, starting with the farm, ensuring any food preparation premises are registered with local authorities so that they can be inspected for proper standards and procedures.

The Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1999

The Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1999 was introduced to ensure food preparation premises were safe, and that machinery was kept clean and well-maintained. It also stated that employees who handle food should be trained in food safety, sanitation, and personal hygiene.


What does due diligence mean in food hygiene?

In food hygiene, the term ‘due diligence’ means making sure that you’re actively demonstrating the procedures you’re following and actions you’re taking to ensure good levels of food safety. Whether you’re an employer or an employee, you should be able to prove that you’re following hygiene rules for food and have evidence to support this.

What are the 4 Cs of food hygiene?

The 4 ‘Cs’ of food hygiene are cleaning, cooking, cross-contamination and chilling. These refer to the four main areas where control measures need to be put in place in order to maintain appropriate levels of hygiene in a food preparation and service environment.

Who are those most at risk from poor food hygiene practices?

Customers are the most at risk from poor food hygiene practices, as they are putting their trust in businesses to adhere to the necessary standards, and are the ones who will get ill if they consume food that has been contaminated because of poor practices. Elderly people, young children and people with existing health conditions are the most at risk within this group, and they are all more likely to be seriously affected by things like food poisoning and its complications.


Basic food hygiene rules are simple to learn and easy to follow once the proper processes have been put in place. They may sometimes feel like unnecessary box-ticking exercises, but they’re an essential part of keeping customers safe, upholding food hygiene standards, and protecting a business’s reputation.

One of the best ways to ensure that all employees are following basic food hygiene rules is through food hygiene training. Employees and staff can achieve a food hygiene certificate by completing one of these training courses that will help their business maintain the standards required.

If you’re looking for a food hygiene training course, we offer a range of online options for a range of scenarios, including our popular ‘Level 1 Food Safety and Hygiene’, ‘Level 2 Food Safety & Hygiene’ and ‘Level 3 Food Safety and Hygiene for Supervisors’.