Food Handling Basics


Published: 24 July 2019

Safe food handling is always important, but particularly so in hospital and aged-care settings where you are catering to vulnerable or sick patients who are highly susceptible to the consequences of food poisoning and foodborne illness or infection.

Each year, there are an estimated 4.1 million cases of food poisoning in Australia (HealthyWA 2019).

These cases are largely preventable. It only takes a few simple steps to reduce the chance of contracting food poisoning (HealthyWA 2019).

The preventative measures of food poisoning are: observing basic personal hygiene techniques, careful food preparation, storage and display.

Keep the following at the forefront of your mind when handling food:

  • Clean
  • Chill
  • Cook
  • Separate.
Tray of food at hospital


Wash your hands (vigorously and for at least 20 seconds) and dry your hands:

  • Before you begin preparing food;
  • After handling raw meat, fish, eggs, or vegetables with soil;
  • After going to the bathroom;
  • After blowing your nose;
  • After touching an animal;
  • After touching sores or cuts; and
  • After handling garbage.

Avoid handling food for at least 48 hours after your symptoms disappear if you’ve experienced infection, diarrhoea or vomiting.

Wipe down benches before and after use with a cloth and spray.

Keep utensils and cutting boards used for raw and ready-to-eat foods apart and wash with warm, soapy water in between use.

(Healthdirect 2019; Food Safety Information Channel 2019; Sydney Children’s Hospital Network 2019)

Canteen worker at healthcare facility holding plate tray of food | Image


As a general guideline, food that has to be kept cold should be stored at or below 5°C to prevent the growth of bacteria that leads to food poisoning. Frozen food should be kept at -18°C or colder. Use a thermometer to check these temperatures.

  • Food should not be refrozen once thawed.
  • After shopping, store cold foods as quickly as possible in the fridge and keep in the fridge until eaten. A cooler bag or ice-brick help keep products cool in the car.
  • Mark foods that are to be frozen with the date that you freeze it – while food can be kept in the freezer for long periods, its colour and texture will change.
  • Cool leftovers quickly.

(Healthdirect 2019; Food Safety Information Channel 2019; Sydney Children’s Hospital Network 2019)


Make sure meat is thoroughly cooked and that the centre of cooked food is at least 75°C. Avoid leaving cooked food out for over an hour – refrigerate after this amount of time has passed.

  • Serve hot food steaming at above 60ºC.
  • Do not reheat food more than once.
  • Cook meat all the way through until the juices run clear - ensure there is no pink left in mince or sausages and keep food steaming hot until you serve it.
  • Defrost frozen poultry and rolled and stuffed meats thoroughly before cooking.
  • Always follow cooking instructions on packaged foods.

(Health Direct 2019; Food Safety Information Channel 2019; Sydney Children’s Hospital Network 2019)


Bear in mind that raw meat, fish, poultry and raw vegetables can contain large numbers of bacteria. For this reason, protective measures have to be taken to prevent bacteria from spreading.

  • Keep raw food and ready-to-eat food separate to avoid cross-contamination.
  • Keep separate utensils and cutting boards used for raw and ready to eat foods and wash with warm, soapy water in between use.
  • Wash hands in between handling raw and ready-to-eat food.
  • Food should be stored in covered containers in the fridge and put raw meats and poultry in the bottom of the fridge so the juices don’t contaminate food on lower shelves.
  • Don’t put cooked meat back on the plate the raw meat was on.

(Health Direct 2019; Food Safety Information Channel 2019; Sydney Children’s Hospital Network 2019)

General Guidelines to Preventing the Spread of Bacteria

  • Keep an eye on use-by dates on food package.
  • Make sure the package itself is in good condition.
  • Clean the refrigerator or food cupboard regularly.
  • Perishable food is to be kept at a temperature of 4 - 5°C and eaten when fresh.
  • Leftovers should be eaten one to two days of being cooked.
  • Freezer temperature is to be kept at below -18°C.
  • Leftover food should be steaming hot when served.
  • Cool leftovers promptly.
  • Mark frozen foods with the date it must be eaten.
  • Do not refreeze food once it has been thawed.

(The Sydney Children’s Hospital Network 2019)

Patient eating food | Image

Food Safety Facts

The ‘temperature danger zone’ for food safety is between 5°C - 60°C. Outside of this zone, bacteria doesn’t grow easily.

The best way to defrost frozen food is in the fridge, leaving food on the bench to defrost leaves it vulnerable to bacteria growth as the outer part of the food will thaw faster than the middle.

The smell or appearance of food are not accurate indicators of its state – bacteria is the catalyst of food poisoning and not spotted easily.

Cooked rice poses more risks than other food. Rice is home to a particularly tough type of bacteria which is difficult to eliminate when cooking.

Food poisoning can take one to three days to develop, so you shouldn’t assume your upset stomach is from the last thing you ate.

Food poisoning can be more severe than an upset stomach. It can be much more serious, in some cases, deadly (Health WA).

The Symptoms and Effects of Food Poisoning

Nausea, abdominal cramps, vomiting, flu-like symptoms, fever and diarrhoea are common symptoms of food poisoning. If experiencing any of these, a person may have contracted food poisoning. (NT.Gov.Au)

Different bacteria and viruses can have different effects on the body:

  • Salmonella

    Gastro and flu-like symptoms which can appear between eight and 72 hours (typically 12-36 hours) after eating spoiled food and may last for two to five days.

  • Campylobacter

    Gastro symptoms present in two to five days, and last for two to ten days.

  • Listeria

    Gastro or flu-like symptoms occur within three weeks, but it can take up to 70 days.

  • Norovirus or rotavirus

    Severe gastro or flu-like symptoms usually begin 24 to 48 hours after eating and last one or two days (norovirus) or up to six days (rotavirus).

  • Escherichia coli (E. coli)

    Gastro symptoms may appear within three to four days and generally last about one week.

(Health Direct 2019)

For mild cases of food poisoning, you can recommend ice chips, replacing lost fluids and electrolytes, and easing back into a normal diet and routine when ready (Health Direct 2019).

Further Resources:


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