Food safety in the home

Introduction

Food poisoning is an illness caused by eating or drinking contaminated food. You can reduce your risk of food poisoning by practicing food safety at home.

This document explains how to store, prepare and cook food safely, as well as how to have good kitchen hygiene.

Food storage

Always eat food before its use-by date. Food that has passed its use-by date is not safe and should not be sold or eaten.

The best before date (sometimes written as ‘BBE’) tells you when the quality of the food will start to get worse, for example, the colour or texture might change. It can still be safe to eat. The best before date only applies if you have stored the food according to its packaging instructions.

You should also check the food label for how long the food will stay safe after opening the packaging. Some foods need to be eaten within 1-2 days of opening.

Store canned foods in a cool, clean, dry place.

Try to keep dry foods, such as cereal or bread, airtight. Exposure to air can cause the quality of food to change.

If you are unsure about the safety of a food item, throw it out.

Refrigerator

Check that the temperature of your fridge is at 5°C or lower. You should also check that the fridge is not over-packed, as cool air needs space to move around.

Keep raw meat, poultry and fish in sealed containers at the bottom of the fridge. This will stop their juices from dripping onto other food and reduce the risk of cross-contamination.

Keep cooked food and ready-to-eat items (such as yogurts and cheese) on the middle and top shelves.

Putting leftovers in the fridge

Leftover cooked rice is high-risk and must be cooled and put in the fridge within one hour of cooking.

All other leftovers should be put in a clean, covered container and stored in the fridge within 2 hours of cooking.

Always eat refrigerated leftovers within 3 days.

Freezer

Freezing food helps to keep it fresh for longer.

When you are freezing food, wrap it in an airtight freezer bag or container, label it and date it. Always freeze food before its use-by date.

Visit the SafeFood website for a list of foods that are suitable for freezing and foods that are not suitable for freezing.

Freezing leftovers

If you are freezing leftover food from a meal, make sure that it has cooled before putting it in the freezer. Freezing food when it is hot will increase the temperature of the freezer and could cause other foods to defrost.

How long can I keep food in my freezer?

All freezers come with a star rating, ranging from one star to 4 stars.

The star rating tells you the temperature the freezer runs at and how long you should freeze food for.

Even if frozen properly, the quality of the food (such as its taste and texture) can change if stored longer than the times shown below:

Star rating: Runs at: Can store food up to:
One star * –6°C One week
2 stars ** –12°C One month
3 stars *** –18°C 3 months
4 stars **** –18°C 3-6 months

Defrosting frozen food

Some food is safe to cook from frozen. Check the packaging on your frozen food for cooking instructions. If the food cannot be cooked from frozen, you will need to defrost it.

The safest way to defrost frozen food is in the fridge. Put the food in a container or on a large plate at the bottom of the fridge so that it cannot drip onto other food.

It takes approximately 24 hours to fully defrost 2-2.5kg of frozen food in the fridge. Larger items of food, such as a frozen turkey, may take longer.

When the food has thawed fully, cook it or eat it within 24 hours.

Only defrost food in the microwave if you are going to cook and eat it straight away. Check the defrost settings on your microwave first.

Never refreeze food that has been defrosted.

Food preparation

Wash your hands thoroughly in hot, soapy water before handling food. Watch SafeFood’s video on how to wash your hands properly before food preparation.

You should also wash your hands during food preparation if you have touched raw meat, eggs or poultry.

Do not prepare food for others if you are feeling unwell.

Washing food

Always wash raw fruit and vegetables before eating them. To wash fruit and vegetables properly, rub or brush them under a cold running tap.

The Food Safety Authority of Ireland (FSAI) advises that you do not wash raw chicken under running water, as this can cause bacteria to splash onto other kitchen surfaces. You can kill harmful bacteria on chicken by cooking it properly.

Cooking

All types of raw meat can carry bacteria, but you can kill the bacteria by cooking the meat properly.

You can serve some meats ‘pink’, such as beef steak or lamb chops. Other meats, such as chicken or sausages, must be cooked through. SafeFood explains how to cook different meats safely.

Vulnerable people, including pregnant women, babies and toddlers, should avoid eating rare or pink lamb and beef. They should also avoid eating raw or lightly-cooked eggs.

Visit SafeFood for information on how to cook eggs safely.

When using the microwave to cook, always rotate and stir food to make sure it cooks evenly. Leave the food to stand for a few minutes before you check that cooking is complete – food continues to cook even when the microwave is turned off.

Re-heating food

When you are re-heating food, heat it until it is steaming hot all the way through (above 70°C) – this will kill any bacteria that may have grown on the food when it was in the fridge. Food should never be re-heated more than once and leftover food should be used within a day of preparation.

Kitchen hygiene

Kitchen surfaces

Wash all work surfaces, such as your kitchen counter and sink, with hot soapy water or disinfectant. Wiping surfaces with a damp cloth is not enough to kill harmful bacteria.

You should also clean your fridge and cupboards regularly by throwing out old food and washing the inside surfaces with warm, soapy water.

Dishcloths and tea towels

Change your dishcloth and tea towel regularly and wash well after each use. Avoid storing your dishcloth and tea towel near food or on clean surfaces.

Wash dirty dishes in warm or hot soapy water. Dry them using a clean tea towel or allow them to air-dry.

Cutting boards

Always use separate cutting boards and utensils for cooked and raw food to prevent cross contamination. Wash cutting boards thoroughly with hot, soapy water between uses.

Discard cutting boards if they become excessively worn or develop hard-to-clean grooves.

Contact information

Food Safety Authority of Ireland

The Exchange
George's Dock
IFSC
Dublin 1
D01 P2V6
Ireland

Tel: +353 1 8171300
Locall: 1890 336677
Fax: +353 1 8171301

Page edited: 17 November 2020