Last updated: 14.07.17

Food Hygiene: why you should know the four Cs

By practicing the four Cs of food hygiene – cross-contamination, cleaning, cooking and chilling – those working with food can avoid food poisoning and other illnesses.

While many believe that common illnesses like diarrhoea and sickness derive from bacteria outside of the kitchen, they’re actually more likely to develop from poor hygiene. Food poisoning is usually a direct result of inadequate hygiene with germs for foods like meat, poultry, eggs, fish and seafood, raw fruit and raw vegetables. It can often be a result of food not being cooked properly, bacteria being transferred to kitchen surfaces or contamination with other foods.

In these instances, poor hygiene when preparing and serving food can cause illnesses that can easily be avoided, which is why it is important to follow the four Cs of food hygiene: cross-contamination, cleaning, cooking and chilling. Here we take a look at these areas in more detail.

1. Cross-contamination

Cross-contamination usually occurs when raw foods are mishandled, causing bacteria to multiply and spread throughout the kitchen. This can be prevented by separating raw meat, poultry and seafood from other foods when shopping and storing food. You can also use separate cutting boards for raw meat products and fresh fruit and vegetables.

Simply washing your hands, cutting boards, dishes and utensils thoroughly with hot soapy water will help reduce cross-contamination. This includes cleaning plates so that when you put cooked food on them, they don't become contaminated with previous bacteria.

Those working in a kitchen or dealing with raw foods should also make sure they stop juices dripping onto other foods when being stored in the fridge. This can be done by placing these foods in sealed containers and plastic bags. It is important to remember to not use sauce that was used to marinate raw foods, unless it is boiled beforehand.

2. Cleaning

Did you know 20 per cent of consumers fail to wash their hands and kitchen surfaces before preparing food, despite it being the first step in safe food handling? While you can’t see, taste or smell germs or bacteria, they can quickly spread throughout the kitchen and, when consumed, can cause food-borne illnesses.

This can be prevented by ensuring that there is handwashing soap, sanitiser, paper towels or a clean cloth at every sink within a cooking or food space. Before handling any food, you should thoroughly wash your hands in hot soapy water for a minimum of 20 seconds, then dry them with a towel or cloth.

When it comes to fruit and vegetables, rinsing them with tap water will remove any surface dirt where bacteria can thrive. Storage areas like the fridge and other cupboards should also be cleaned once a week with hot soapy water.

3. Cooking

To maintain a high standard of food hygiene, those working with food should ensure that all foods are cooked properly and are heated for a long enough time at a high enough temperature. You can’t fully tell whether or not food is safe to eat by the colour it is. A good way to tell whether or not cooked food is safe, is by using a clean food thermometer throughout the food. By doing this, you can check that foods are cooked to the correct requirements, whilst eliminating the possibility of under- or overcooked food.

Food should be reheated to a temperature of 74°C or 165°F, with sauces, soups and gravies brought to a boil. While microwaving foods can be useful when reheating food quickly, they can often heat unevenly, creating hot and cold spots in the food. In cold areas, bacteria can survive, which may then cause food-borne illnesses to develop.

4. Chilling

Specific types of food are best stored in a refrigerator, because at room temperature pathogenic bacteria can double in quantity every 30 to 40 minutes, increasing the chances of you developing an illness. However, there is no point storing food in a fridge that isn’t cold enough. According to Shama Trading Co. some 23 per cent of consumers’ fridges are not cold enough and enable the growth of foodborne bacteria. To avoid this, fridges should be set at 4°C or 40°F.

While many people believe that food must be cooled before storing in the fridge, the truth is that prompt refrigeration is much safer (and it won’t harm your fridge!). In addition to this, foods should never be thawed at room temperature and instead should be defrosted in the fridge.

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