Last updated: 03.01.24

5 Common Food Safety Mistakes You Should Avoid


For any food business, even the smallest of food safety mistakes can have big consequences, not to mention being time-consuming and costly.

The key to success is high standards and good food safety practices. However, it can be difficult for employers to keep their staff engaged in a ‘culture of cleanliness’, especially when it comes to breaking old habits and enforcing new and more time-consuming regimes. This is why employers must communicate with their workforce so they know the consequences of poor kitchen sanitation.

A key way that you can prevent food safety mistakes in your business is to educate staff on what some of the most common issues are, so they are aware of what to avoid. In this article, we identify what causes food safety issues and mistakes and take a look at the most common food safety mistakes your staff need to avoid.

What Is a Food Safety Hazard?

A food safety hazard is any substance that can enter a food product and consequently cause illness or injury in the person who has consumed it. This includes things like germs, substances that aren’t edible like cleaning products, or contaminants like pieces of plastic or even human hair and nails.

Food safety hazards are also situations that present a food safety risk in the food preparation environment, such as overflowing bins, a broken fridge, or unwashed utensils. These hazards can lead to food products being contaminated bySpeaking of health inspections, the ratings and reviews that your business gets from an official visit aren’t the only things that can impact your reputation. When businesses let their food standards slide, ratings can quickly go downhill and - with competition tougher than ever - customers will simply decide to eat elsewhere. Having a poor food hygiene rating on top of this will only make things worse.

The best way to avoid this is to make employees aware of best practices in the kitchen and encourage them to ask questions or have a discussion with you if they are unsure of the rules. If there is anything that is not made clear, employees may cut corners or make assumptions about hygiene. You can prevent this from happening by providing staff with the relevant training.

The Most Common Food Safety Mistakes

Whilst the consequences of food safety issues can be quite severe, the good news is that it’s not very hard to take measures to prevent these mistakes. Here are some of the top food safety issues that occur in a working kitchen and how you can prevent them from happening. 

Eating Food in the Kitchen

Aside from eating food on the job being unprofessional, it is also very unhygienic and is actually a health code violation, especially in areas where food is being prepared. This is because there is a risk of crumbs and food that employees are eating getting into meals served to customers. In addition to this, food that has saliva or other human bacteria on it could distribute illness.

There should be a designated area outside of the kitchen where staff eat their meals whilst at work. Staff should also be given regular breaks that allow them to eat so that they’re not tempted to snack or try and eat whilst they’re working in the kitchen.

Storing Food at the Wrong Temperature

Those handling food will know that it is vital that meats, pastries, dairy and poultry must be kept refrigerated to prevent bacteria from developing and growing. However, there is not just one temperature at which these types of food must be kept, as d one of the things we mentioned above, which in turn can cause harm to customers or employees.

What Is the Cause of Food Safety Issues?

Food safety issues are caused by a range of things in a working kitchen, which is why food safety culture and practices involve numerous different procedures. 

Some of the top food safety issues are caused by behaviour, such as a failure to follow appropriate hygiene procedures or forgetting to do simple things like washing your hands or using separate equipment. The problem with this cause of common food safety mistakes is that they result from human error, which can be quite tricky to consistently prevent.

Other food safety issues come from poor kitchen hygiene, which can also attract pests like rats, flies and cockroaches, as well as foodborne outbreaks. Even the simplest of actions, such as leaving food uncovered, can cause harmful illnesses.

In order to recognise and prevent the top food safety issues, it’s also important to understand what causes them. In many cases, small changes to behaviour and procedures can make a big difference, which is why things like food hygiene training are an effective way to improve and prevent problems with food safety.

Why Is Food Safety Important?

Food safety is important for two main reasons; it keeps your staff and customers safe and it protects your business’ reputation. Both of these are important to avoid your businesses facing legal action which could result in closure, but the former is also important because, as an employer, you have a responsibility to ensure that your workplace is safe for employees.

The two biggest risks when it comes to food safety in the kitchen include food becoming contaminated and unsafe, and a company failing health inspections, which will mean they have to make big changes, fast. Both of these risks demonstrate the consequences of having a good food safety culture and effective hygiene procedures, which links back to the importance of food safety in the workplace.

ifferent foods need various storage temperatures.

Generally, in the food industry, it is widespread knowledge that food must not be kept unrefrigerated for more than two hours. In hotter conditions, this time is shortened to no longer than an hour. This is because food left at room temperature for a prolonged period of time is more susceptible to pest contamination and is a major cause of foodborne illnesses.

All staff should be aware of where food needs to be stored to keep it safe and ensure it lasts until its use-by date. This can be communicated through staff training, but you could also consider labelling the sections in your fridges or having particular cupboards, freezers and fridges for certain kinds of ingredients.

Failing to Wash Hands

It may seem minor, but washing hands before coming into contact with foods or surfaces in the kitchen is one of the best ways to keep germs at bay. Yet despite this, workers only practice washing their hands a small portion of the time, despite them being major vehicles for cross-contamination.

Employers must try and get workers into a routine of washing their hands when they touch meat or raw ingredients, prepare fresh foods and leave the food preparation area to complete another task. Hands should be washed for at least 20 seconds with soap and then thoroughly dried before touching anything else.

Undercooking Food

When you’re in a busy kitchen with lots of orders coming through, cutting corners can be really tempting. But one of the common cooking mistakes that you should never try and shave time off of is cooking food to the right temperature.

Undercooked food, especially meat, creates the perfect environment for harmful bacteria that cause food poisoning to grow. At high temperatures these bacteria are killed, but if food isn’t cooked for long enough then these germs will remain on the product and be consumed by the customer. They could also be transferred from one food product to another, increasing the impact of the hazard.

To avoid this common cooking mistake, employees should use a thermometer to ensure that meat has been cooked thoroughly to the right temperature. Any cooked products being reheated should also be tested to check their temperature before they are served.

Using the Same Equipment Multiple Times

Perhaps the biggest cause of cross-contamination in the kitchen comes from using the same equipment multiple times, thus transferring contaminants from one food product to another and spreading potentially harmful germs around different dishes. This happens when the same chopping boards, knives and serving spoons are used for different ingredients, especially with things like raw meat or vegetables.

To avoid this safety issue related to food preparation, different utensils and equipment should be used for each different dish or ingredient, using colour-coded systems to highlight what should only be used for things like meat, fish and dairy. This is also an important part of managing allergen contamination, which is another major aspect of food safety.


What is due diligence in food safety?

In food safety, due diligence involves being able to prove that you and your employees are taking appropriate steps to prevent food safety hazards. You have a responsibility to ensure the safety of the food you sell and the environment it’s prepared in, and due diligence provides evidence of this. 

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

All of your customers are put at risk if your business uses poor food hygiene practices, and your staff are also at risk if you don’t enforce the proper procedures that will keep them safe. But the groups that are most at risk are your customers who are very young, very old or who have immunity conditions, as they are more at risk of getting seriously ill from consuming unsafe food.

Which food safety hazards result from poor management?

One of the main food safety hazards that comes from poor management is a lack of proper waste disposal. When bins aren’t regularly taken out and rubbish isn’t disposed of, these areas in the kitchen become a hotbed for germs which can transfer onto food, equipment and employees. Poor management allows this to happen, especially when employees aren’t encouraged to check and remove rubbish when bins start getting full.


Common food mistakes will sometimes happen no matter how much training your staff have received and how many risk management measures you have put in place. But you can reduce the likelihood of this happening as much as possible by ensuring that employees are educated on easy mistakes that could be causing serious safety issues and implementing procedures that ensure these mistakes aren’t being unconsciously made.

If you’re looking for food hygiene training to help your employees avoid making common food safety mistakes, Virtual College offers a range of online food safety courses that are suitable for all levels and roles.