Safety and first aid

Storing and handling food

Taking care when you buy, store and handle food makes it last longer and can also reduce the risk of food poisoning.

Remember – Clean, Separate, Cook and Chill

Food poisoning is a serious illness. But preventing food poisoning is simple if you follow these behaviours.

Storing food
  • Keep food covered to protect it from dust, insects, sneezes, etc. Always use a clean cover – never re-use plastic or aluminium wrap.
  • Keep raw meat and seafood, eggs, ready-to-eat food (such as fruit and vegetables) and cooked meals separated in the fridge. Always wrap and store cooked foods above raw foods in the fridge.
  • Keep perishable foods hot (above 60 °C) or cold (below 5 °C). Check the temperature of your fridge regularly – in hot weather it may need adjusting to keep food cold.
  • Arrange food in your fridge so cold air can easily circulate around it. Never overstock your fridge. Fridges work better and are cheaper to run if they are defrosted regularly.
Time and temperature control

Bacteria that cause food poisoning can grow easily on high-risk foods such as:

  • dairy products
  • meat (including poultry) fish and seafood.

Given time and the right temperature conditions, bacteria can multiply quickly to dangerous levels.

Bacteria grow best at temperatures between 5 °C and 60 °C. This temperature range is known as the ‘temperature danger zone’. To keep high-risk foods out of the temperature danger zone:

  • Always keep high risk foods at the following temperatures:
    • above 60 °C  for foods such as roasts, stews, casseroles, soups and curries
    • below 5 °C for foods including sliced meats, desserts, dairy products, sandwiches and salads.
  • Always defrost frozen food in the fridge or in a microwave oven set on ‘defrost’. Defrosting food on the bench top can be unsafe, and increase bacteria growth in foods as they defrost. 
  • Make sure food is cooked thoroughly. Joints of meat and poultry should reach at least 75 °C in their centre – this will kill most harmful bacteria. Make sure meat and poultry juices are clear, not pink.
  • Cook and serve food immediately – never leave high-risk food out at room temperature. Any food left out for more than four hours should be thrown away.
  • Refrigerate promptly all cooked and perishable food at or below 5° C. Portion food before cooling, for example slice meats and cut large poultry into smaller portions. Place liquid foods such as casseroles in shallow containers (no more than 5cm deep) to allow for rapid cooling and place in the fridge as soon as it stops steaming.
  • If reheating food make sure it is reheated until steaming hot.
  • Do not store food too long, even in the fridge. Keep for a maximum of 3 days.
Handling food

Bacteria cannot move on their own – they are spread from one place to another by poor food handling practices or by contact with pets, flies or other pests. To stop the spread of bacteria:

  • Always wash your hands thoroughly with soap and hot water:
    • before handling food, especially cooked food
    • after going to the toilet
    • between handling raw and cooked foods.
  • Avoid using bare hands to touch food. Use tongs, forks and spoons whenever possible.
  • Always clean and sanitise work surfaces and utensils. Sanitisers kill bacteria, while detergents only remove dirt and grease.
  • Wash fruits and vegetables, especially if eaten raw.
  • Use safe, treated water when preparing food and cleaning.
  • Use separate cutting boards and knives for each type of food, for example raw meat, fish, vegetables and cooked foods.
  • Use paper towels whenever possible. Dishcloths and towels can carry bacteria.
  • Protect food preparation areas and food from pests, insects and pets.
Disposal of unsafe food

When the power to goes out, it generally means the food in a fridge or freezer will go off.

Unless cold storage (below 4°C) is available within 2 hours of a power cut, all potentially hazardous foods like cheese that are typically stored in the fridge need to be placed in alternative cold storage, eaten immediately or disposed.

If in doubt, throw it out

  • Food will remain safe in your refrigerator for 2 hours. If it has been more than 4 hours, throw the food out.
  • Food can remain frozen between to 24 to 48 hours in a freezer. If food has thawed out throw it out.
  • Food can remain frozen in a freezer that has been without power for between 1 and 2 days, provided it is in good condition and was operating at minus 15C or below. If the freezer door is kept shut, a full freezer can keep food frozen for up to 48 hours, while a half full freezer can kept food frozen for 24 hours.

Where larger quantities have to be disposed of such as for restaurants or cafes, contact the Environmental Health Services at your local government (external site). Without correct disposal, fly breeding may result and increase the risk of the spread of diseases.

More information

Contact Environmental Health Services at your local government (external site).


Food Unit, Public Health

This publication is provided for education and information purposes only. It is not a substitute for professional medical care. Information about a therapy, service, product or treatment does not imply endorsement and is not intended to replace advice from your healthcare professional. Readers should note that over time currency and completeness of the information may change. All users should seek advice from a qualified healthcare professional for a diagnosis and answers to their medical questions.