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Good food guide

How to prepare and cook food safely

content supplied byNHS Choices

Studies show that the kitchen contains the most germs in the home.

One found that the kitchen sink contains 100,000 times more germs than the bathroom.

Germs such as E. coli, campylobacter and salmonella enter the kitchen on our hands, raw food and through our pets. They can rapidly spread if we're not careful. 

If food isn’t cooked, stored and handled correctly, people can become ill with food poisoning, colds, flu and other conditions.

Washing hands

Our hands are the main way germs are spread, so it’s important to wash them thoroughly with soap and warm water before cooking and after touching raw meat.

Raw meat, including poultry, contains harmful bacteria that can spread easily to anything it touches. This includes other food, worktops, tables, chopping boards and knives.

“Lots of people think they should wash raw chicken, but there's no need," says nutrition expert Sam Montel. "Any germs on it will be killed if you cook it thoroughly. In fact, if you do wash chicken, you could splash germs on to the sink, worktop, dishes or anything else nearby.”

Take particular care to keep raw meat away from ready-to-eat foods such as bread, salad and fruit. These foods won’t be cooked before you eat them so any germs that get on to them won’t be killed.

“Use different chopping boards for raw and ready-to-eat foods,” says Montel.

When storing raw meat, always keep it in a clean, sealed container and place it on the bottom shelf of the fridge where it can’t touch or drip on to other foods.

Cooking

Don’t eat these foods rare (not thoroughly cooked):

  • poultry
  • pork
  • burgers
  • sausages
  • rolled joints of meat
  • kebabs

Cooking food at the right temperature will ensure that any harmful bacteria are killed. Check that food is piping hot right through to the middle before you eat it.

When cooking burgers, sausages, chicken and pork, cut into the middle to check that the meat is no longer pink and that it’s piping hot (steam is coming out).

When cooking a whole chicken or other bird, pierce the thickest part of the leg (between the drumstick and the thigh) to check that the juices are no longer pink or red.

Pork joints and rolled joints shouldn’t be eaten rare (not thoroughly cooked). To check when these types of joint are ready to eat, put a skewer into the centre of the meat and check that the juices are no longer pink or red.

It’s safe to serve steak and other whole cuts of beef and lamb rare (not cooked in the middle) or blue (seared on the outside) as long as they have been properly sealed (cooked quickly and at a high temperature on the outside only) to kill any bacteria on the meat’s surface.

If you’ve cooked food that you’re not going to eat immediately, cool it at room temperature and then store it in the fridge. Putting hot food in the fridge means it doesn't cool evenly, which can cause food poisoning.

Montel's advice is to keep the coldest part of your fridge between 0C and 5C (32F and 41F). “If your fridge has an internal freezer compartment that is iced up, the fridge could struggle to maintain its temperature,” she says.

Cleaning up

Wash all worktops and chopping boards before and after cooking as they are sources of germ cross-contamination.

The average kitchen chopping board has around 200% more faecal bacteria on it than the average toilet seat.

Damp sponges and cloths are the perfect place for bacteria to breed. Studies have shown the kitchen sponge to have the highest number of germs in the home. Wash and replace kitchen cloths, sponges and tea towels frequently.

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