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Preparing and cooking food

In addition to this information, all people involved in the preparation and cooking of food need to read health and hygiene for food handlers. It is particularly important that you do not prepare or cook food if you are ill with diarrhoea and/or vomiting.

Buying food

When you buy potentially hazardous food, place it in insulated bags or boxes for transporting to the preparation place if it is not close to your shops. Place your potentially hazardous food in a refrigerator or freezer as soon as possible. See our information on temperature control for a list of foods that are potentially hazardous.

Preparing food

Before preparing food, make sure that hands, clothes, equipment and kitchen surfaces are clean. They will also need to be kept clean throughout food preparation.

If your event is to be held outdoors with limited facilities, prepare the food in a kitchen and then transport it to the event. This does not mean that you need to cook food before you take it to the event but, for example, you should slice the raw meat ready for cooking. In fact, food that is freshly cooked at the event and served straight away, such as at barbecues, has less chance of becoming unsafe than food that is pre-cooked and then taken to the event. So, wherever possible, try to cook food at the event rather than pre-cooking it.

Preventing food from becoming contaminated during preparation

The most important step to remember before preparing food is to wash and dry your hands thoroughly.

Try to use tongs and other utensils when preparing food that will not be cooked before it is eaten, such as salads and sandwiches. You may prefer to wear gloves, but remember that they should be used for one task only (for example, breaking up a cooked chicken for sandwiches). When you start the next task, wear new gloves.

Never use the same utensils for raw meats and foods that are ready to eat, such as cooked meats, unless they have been thoroughly cleaned, sanitised and dried.

Cooked food and other food that is ready to eat, such as salads, should always be placed on clean and dry serving dishes.

Cleaning and sanitising utensils

There are three steps needed to effectively clean and sanitise utensils:

  • washing
  • sanitising
  • drying.

Utensils such as cutting boards, bowls and knives need to be thoroughly washed in warm soapy water. After washing, the utensils should look clean and there should be no food or anything else visible on them. Effective cleaning will remove most of the dangerous bacteria present. Sanitising will then kill any that might remain.

A dishwasher is very effective at sanitising if it has a hot wash and drying cycle. If you do not have a dishwasher, you will need to sanitise in a sink using a chemical sanitiser or very hot water. If using a chemical sanitiser such as sodium hypochlorite (bleach) or a quaternary ammonium-based solution, make sure that it can be safely used for sanitising eating, drinking and cooking utensils. Follow the instructions on the container carefully, because different sanitisers work in different ways. If you are using very hot water, take extra care to avoid being scalded.

All utensils must then be thoroughly dried before they are re-used. Air-drying is best but tea towels can be used if they are clean.

If you are washing up at an event being held outdoors, make sure you have access to plenty of hot water. If hot water is not available, disposable eating and drinking utensils should be used and enough cooking utensils provided to last the whole event so that washing up is not necessary.


Always cook food thoroughly. Do not partially cook food and then warm it up later. Cook chicken, sausages and hamburgers until juices run clear and the internal temperature is 75oC - check it with a food thermometer. Beef steaks can be cooked to preference. Cooking will reduce dangerous bacteria to safe levels if it is done properly. Remember that some food-poisoning bacteria can protect themselves from cooking and while they will not be present in enough numbers to make someone sick just after the food is cooked, they can start growing again if the cooked food is left at temperatures between 5°C and 60°C for too long. This is why cooling cooked food quickly is so important.

Wherever possible, try to cook food as close to the time that you will be serving or selling it. For example, if you can, take the food to the event and cook it there. This reduces the chance of the food becoming contaminated after it has been cooked. It also means there won't be enough time for food-poisoning bacteria to grow to dangerous levels on the cooked food before it is eaten.

If it isn't practical to cook food at the event, you will need to pre-cook the food and transport it hot, or alternatively cook it, cool it and then transport it cold. See our information on transporting food.

Cooling food

If you decide you want to pre-cook food and then cool it, you will need to ensure the food is cooled rapidly to 5°C. If a large container of cooked food, for example a beef curry, is placed in a refrigerator for cooling, it can take as long as 24 hours to cool to 5°C. This is dangerous as the centre of the food will remain warm and allow food-poisoning bacteria to grow to dangerous levels.

The food safety standards require cooked food to be cooled to 5°C within six hours, in two stages. The food must first be cooled from 60°C to 21°C in 2 hours or faster. It must then be cooled from 21°C to 5°C in four hours or faster. Safe cooling can be achieved by:

  • removing the food from the stove top, oven or other heat source after it has cooked
  • allowing the food to initially cool outside the refrigerator - but make sure it is placed in the refrigerator as soon as any part of it drops to a temperature of 60°C
  • placing the food in shallow containers in the refrigerator.

You will need to use your thermometer to check the cooked food is being cooled correctly within the two stages of 6-hour time limit.

Reheating food

Cold food (which is to be served hot) will need to be quickly and thoroughly heated at the event until it is steaming hot and then kept hot until it is served. It is best to re-heat the food to a temperature of 70°C and hold the food at this temperature for at least two minutes. Use your thermometer to check that all of the food reaches at least this temperature.

Keeping food hot

Hot food will need to be kept hot (60°C or above) at the event. This could be achieved by using gas or electric appliances.

Alternatively, you could use time, rather than temperature, to keep the food safe - see our information on temperature control.

Making sandwiches

Sandwiches are a popular product for community and fundraising events. Making them usually involves a lot of handling, which makes personal hygiene very important.

Sandwiches are often filled with potentially hazardous food and should be handled and stored like any other high-risk food. They should be made fresh as close to the start of the event as possible. If this is not practical, they should kept in a refrigerator. Make sure that you have enough refrigerator space to store them safely as they may take up a lot of room.

Because sandwiches require a lot of handling, it is very important that people who are ill do not make the sandwiches.

Sandwiches should be kept cold (at 5oC or colder) when they are transported and displayed for sale. Alternatively, you could use time, rather than temperature, to keep the sandwiches safe - see temperature control.


Page last updated 6 December 2023