The best food businesses have set practices to ensure quality at all stages of service, from preparation and mise en place, to the final plating of a delicious meal for the customer. Ticking off a food hygiene checklist should undoubtedly be one of these practices. Proper food safety precaution is vital to the contentment and peace of mind of yourself, your customers and your local Environmental Health Officer.

There is no blanket approach to food preparation safety in the fine details; all food workplaces are subtly different. However, we’ve managed to craft a free 7-Point Food Safety Checklist for your convenience, offering generalised, useful advice for all food workplaces.

A recommended food safety checklist from the CDC, instructing readers to clean, separate, cook and chill their food.
Clean, separate, cook, chill; four steps to food safety.

1. Check food deliveries immediately.

You are busy, the kitchen is bustling, and a delivery of fresh produce arrives. The temptation is to give it a cursory glance, put it to one side and deal with it later. However, it is much safer to take the time to check and store it immediately or as soon as possible.

Checking the packaging will potentially show up a physical contamination hazard such as missing staples or splintered wooden packaging. Additionally, you will be able to spot any items that need additional washing during preparation. Most important of all, though, are the things you can’t see. So, the faster you get the produce into its appropriate environment, the smaller the chance of contamination and the better your food safety. On a day-to-day basis, this should be the first ‘tick’ on your food safety checklist.

2. Defrost food in the fridge.

While it may be faster to defrost in a warmer environment, a fridge is controlled; the temperature of refrigerated food will rise at a constant rate. Consequently, it will finish defrosting in a chilled, regulated state. If food is allowed to stand at room temperature, however, it will enter the 5°-63° (Celsius) ‘danger zone’ for bacterial multiplication.

3. Never wash poultry.

Whilst washing fruit and vegetables is an absolute necessity, washing chicken is actually quite dangerous. Campylobacter, for example, is often present on the surface of poultry. Therefore, washing poultry can potentially contaminate the sink, tap and all other surfaces which it touches. Whilst properly cleaning all preparation areas is vital regardless, you can further prevent a bacterial disaster by reducing the chance that poultry ever comes near the sink and its adjacent surfaces. In fact, handling meat properly, cooking to an appropriate temperature and storing it adequately are far safer and simpler methods of dealing with poultry than washing it.

4. Wash your fruit and vegetables.

Fruit and vegetables are often healthy and naturally cultivated. However, E-coli, parasites and many other nasties can be lurking amongst the contents of your healthy-looking veg box. In particular, green, leafy vegetables are a regular culprit for harbouring unwanted guests. ‘Natural’ and ‘organic’ do not necessarily correlate with proper food hygiene, so be sure to wash fruit and vegetables thoroughly.

5. Cook food to an appropriate temperature.

We’ve already mentioned the danger of campylobacter in chicken and other poultry. Cooking this meat to an appropriate temperature will destroy most bacterial or viral contamination.

However, when we cook red meat, for example, the rules on temperature can be a little more complicated. Why can we serve beef steak pink, for example, but often not a beef burger? The difference is that pathogens are usually found on the outside of meat. When you mince it, you move the outside to the inside, taking the potential hazard and spreading it through the meal. Of course, some restaurants can serve burgers pink in the middle, provided they adhere to strict risk control; even then, raw or pink meat should not be served to certain vulnerable people.

A meat thermometer shows a reading which indicates the meat is not yet cooked through.
In the majority of cases, burgers should be cooked through to appropriate temperature.

6. Wear the right clothing.

Whites and other protective clothing are meant to protect the food from your outside clothes as well as protect you from splashes and spills. Hair and beard nets may not be exactly high fashion, but they are there to prevent you from contaminating the food. Furthermore, all kitchen accoutrements, including gloves and hats, should be worn only in the preparation area, to prevent contamination from the outside world.

7. Wash your hands.

Wash, wash and wash again. To put it bluntly, you and your skin are a playground for nasty bacteria. Every time you handle your ingredients you are potentially spreading viruses, bacteria and even parasites into the food you are preparing. You should understand why and when to wash your hands and what poor personal hygiene can cause, if you do not stick to proper guidelines when working with food.

A person washes a tomato before preparing it.
Wash fruit, vegetables and your hands thoroughly.

Measure Twice, Cut Once

Prepare to cook safely and you will almost certainly do so. There is an old handyman saying that springs to mind here – ‘measure twice, cut once’. Essentially, ample preparation is key before taking action. Consider your food hygiene thoroughly and then consider again; only afterwards should you be taking action in the kitchen. Print out our free Food Safety Checklist and present it somewhere visible. This is a surefire way to know you and your staff are prioritising food hygiene each time you enter the workplace.

However, this food hygiene checklist only acts as a very basic guide and is not a proper food safety course for your staff. Train your entire team appropriately today with one of our Level 2 Food Hygiene, RoSPA-accredited courses.