More than a third of us regularly check the food hygiene ratings of restaurants when we're deciding where to eat, according to a YouGov poll. These ratings range from 0 to 5 and show how hygienically food was stored and prepared when a restaurant was inspected, and how clean it was. But while many of us pay close attention to food hygiene ratings when we eat out, do we apply the same level of scrutiny when we prepare food at home?
To ensure the food your cook at home is prepared as hygienically as it can be, and to minimise the risk of food poisoning, follow these seven food hygiene DOs and DON'Ts.
DO check your fridge temperature
The average fridge in the UK is set to a too-hot 7°C, but to store food safely, your fridge should always be at a temperature of below 5°C. This limits the rate at which bacteria multiply and can stop food going off faster than it should, which could also reduce the £470 of otherwise edible food the average UK household bins every year.
Not sure how to adjust the temperature of your fridge? Use the Chill the Fridge Out tool on the Love Food Hate Waste website to remind yourself. A fridge thermometer, which can be bought for less than £4 from retailers such as Lakeland, will help you keep tabs on the temperature your food is stored at.
DO cook frozen veg thoroughly
Even if you plan to serve frozen veg like sweetcorn or peas cold - in a salad, for example - it's still important to cook them thoroughly according to the instructions on the packaging. The Food Standards Agency (FSA) advises that you should use leftover frozen veg that's been cooked - or a dish with cooked frozen veg in it - within two days.
DON'T leave it too long to wash your tea towel
'Tea towels harbour bacteria, especially if they're damp, so it's important to wash them regularly,' cautions GH Cookery Director, Meike Beck. Other germ hotspots include washing-up sponges and dishcloths. Disinfect them regularly by soaking in a solution of Milton Sterilising Fluid for 15 minutes, before wringing out the liquid and allowing them to dry naturally. Next time you're in the market for sponges, opt for Spontex Non Scratch Super Sponge Scourers, which can be machine washed at up to 70°C.
DO cool leftovers down quickly
Putting leftover food in the fridge when it's still warm can raise the temperature of the fridge higher than the recommended maximum temperature of 5°C. But leaving it out to cool for too long can also allow bacteria to multiply. Aim to cool food down to room temperature within two hours of cooking and put it in the fridge or freezer. To speed up the process, transfer leftovers into a plastic food storage container, secure the lid, and stand it in a baking tray with a few centimetres of cold water in it.
DON'T guestimate cooking times
We all know that poultry, pork and minced meat products should be cooked until there's no pink meat left and the juices run clear. However, investing in a food thermometer will help take the guesswork out of cooking any food safely and you can pick one up for well under £10. The FSA advises that all food should be cooked until it has reached a temperature of 70°C throughout and stayed at that temperature for at least two minutes. This advice applies when you're reheating leftovers, too.
DO organise your fridge carefully
Always cover raw meat well or store it in a container with a lid and place it on the bottom shelf in the fridge, where there's less chance of it dripping onto other food and contaminating it.
DO know the difference between 'use by' and 'best before' dates
'Never eat foods past their use-by date, even if you think they look safe to eat, as there may be harmful levels of bacteria on them,' Meike advises. 'Best-before dates, on the other hand, are only advisory. Food that's past its best before date may not be at its best but it will be safe to eat if prepared correctly.'
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