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Guide Food safety tips for businesses

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5. Temperature control

Some foods will allow bacteria to survive and grow very rapidly - so it is important to keep these foods either too cold or too hot for bacteria to multiply.

Some foods need to be kept chilled to keep them safe, for example food with a use by date, food that you have cooked and won’t serve immediately, or other ready-to-eat food such as prepared salads. If these foods are not properly chilled, bacteria can grow and make people ill. Even foods which are kept chilled will still have some bacteria growing in it, very slowly. So foods in the fridge can still go off or make you ill. It is important to know when food was put in a fridge, so you know if it has been there a long time and can throw it away. You can write the date you put the food in the fridge on the covering, or stick a small label with the date on to the container. With food you cook and put in the fridge, you should generally use it within four days.

What you need to do

  • Aim to keep the coldest part of your fridge between 0 deg C and 5 deg C (32 deg F and 41 deg F)
  • Keep a fridge thermometer in the coldest part and check the temperature regularly
  • Keep the most perishable foods, like cooked meats, in the coldest part of the fridge
  • Return perishable foods to the fridge or freezer as soon as possible after use
  • Where possible use separate fridges for raw and ready to eat food, or remember to keep raw food below ready-to-eat food in the fridge
  • Wrap or cover all raw or uncooked foods so that they can't touch or drip on other foods and contaminate them
  • Wrap or cover cooked food to stop materials in the fridge touching or falling on to them 
  • To keep the fridge cold, don't overload it or leave the door open longer than necessary
  • Don't put hot food in the fridge; let it cool first, but don't leave it out over an hour and a half
  • Don't keep food beyond its use by date
  • Empty any part-used can into a bowl and cover it, otherwise the tin may contaminate the food
  • Follow storage instructions given on food packages

How to check

  • Check chilled food on delivery to make sure it’s cold
  • Check that food that needs to be chilled is put in the fridge as soon as it arrives
  • Check regularly that your fridge and display units are cold enough
  • Check the time between cooking food and chilling it - this shouldn’t be longer than two hours
  • Remember, chilled food must be kept below 8 deg C, ideally 5 deg C

When you’re serving or displaying chilled ready to eat food you can keep it above 8 deg C for a maximum of four hours. You can only do this once. Then you must throw away the food or keep it chilled until it’s used.

Cooling

It is important to cool food as quickly as possible in order to prevent the growth of bacteria. Ideally this should be cooled to less than 8 deg C within 90 minutes.

Food can be cooled quickly by a variety of methods. These include:

  1. Dividing food into smaller amounts
  2. Placing food in shallow dishes
  3. Running cold water through foods for example, rice
  4. Placing a container of hot foods in an ice water bath
  5. Placing in a cool part of the kitchen or cool food room - ensure it is properly covered to protect against contamination
  6. Using a fan to blow air across the food - ensure the fan is in a clean condition and the food is protected from contamination

Hot foods

Hot foods must be stored above 63 deg C to prevent the excessive growth of bacteria. Hot foods can be kept below this temperature for a maximum of two hours before it must either be used, returned to above 63 deg C, chilled quickly and stored chilled or thrown away.
You could use a probe thermometer to check if food is being kept hot (above 63 deg C) or cold (below 8 deg C). Make sure you always clean the thermometer thoroughly with a food grade sanitizer every time you use it, before and after putting it in the food.