Family food safety

Healthy eating starts with understanding food safety, as food is prepared, cooked, eaten, and stored in the home. 

Teaching children and family members to make safe decisions around food will give them skills for life and will allow them to make healthy and safe food when they become chef's helper as they get older. 

Checking the safety label

Food labels provide guidance on the safety and quality of a product when it becomes available in a shop or is taken home.

Reading safety labels

Used by date means a food or drink will need to be consumed or thrown away by that date. Food is considered unsafe to eat as it may have developed unhealthy bacteria or become unstable. In Australia, it is illegal to sell food or beverage products after it has past the used by date. 

Best before date means a food or drink may still be safe to consume if it is not damaged, deteriorated or perished. If a product has past its best before date the quality of the product has likely decreased. This may show as:

  • a decrease or loss of colour
  • changes in taste
  • changes to texture. 

As long as a food product has not deteriorated or is damaged, it can legally be sold after a best before date. 

Preparing food and cross contamination

When preparing food, it’s important to ensure the kitchen and the food environment are clean and safe. Follow these tips to prevent unwanted illness:

Wash and dry hands

Wash your and your child's hands before touching any food, even if it is just for a snack. This is especially important if your child has been playing outside or with family pets.

Keep counter tops clean

Keep benches and dining room tables clear and wipe down before and after preparing or eating food. 

Separate certain foods

Separate raw and uncooked food when preparing. Use a different knife and cutting board for things like raw meat and vegetables. Colour-coded cutting boards and knives are a great option to help keep items separate, for example, a green cutting board for fruit and vegetables or a red cutting board for raw meats. 

Don't prepare others food when sick

If possible, don’t prepare or cook food for others if you are sick with illnesses such as a cold, the flu or gastro-viruses.  

Involving your children with meal preparation is a great way to get them to try, and become familiar with new foods. However, it’s crucial to set up rules for the safe use of utensils and cutlery. 

Explain to children that they should ask every time before touching utensils. Always supervise children whilst in the kitchen. Child safety knives are available and designed with rounded edges to cut food while being suitable for use by a child. 

Cooking food 

Cooking food thoroughly will help prevent food-borne bacteria from being in food when you are eating it. For information on safely cooking and cooling food read the Keeping food out of the Danger Zone section. 

Meat, such as chicken, mince, sausages or rissoles should be cooked until the juice from the meat is a clear colour. Meat like beef steak can be cooked to specific temperatures to suit taste preferences.  However,  the longer and hotter it is cooked, the less likely bacteria will be present. 

Where possible, aim to prepare and cook food as close to the time it is served and eaten. If food is being cooked and transported, or eaten elsewhere, for example at a picnic, it is important to take safety precautions. Have an esky or safe food storage option with ice bricks to keep food fresh while in transit. 

Storing food 

Bacterial growth in food and food poisoning are some of the biggest risks if food isn't stored correctly. Sight, smell or taste are not recommended ways to determine if a food has been contaminated.  

It is important to follow storage information on packaged foods. Storage information includes guidelines such as:

  • keep refrigerated after opening
  • store in a cool, dry place
  • fully cook before eating.

Following storage guidelines ensures the product keeps its quality and is safe to consume until the indicated use by or best before date. 

High risk foods for bacteria: 

  • raw and cooked meats 
  • seafood 
  • cooked and cooled rice and pasta 
  • eggs and egg products for example quiche
  • salads and fruit salads 
  • any ready-to-eat foods which contain high-risk foods.

Keeping food out of the danger zone

When storing or reheating food for children to eat, it’s important to keep it out of the temperature range known as the danger zone. The danger zone is a temperature temperature between 5 degrees Celsius (5C) and 60 degrees Celsius (60C). Food kept in the danger zone for too long can develop harmful bacteria.

Cooling cooked food quickly is important. When cooling leftover meals or food, reduce the temperature to below 5C as soon as possible. This can be done by :

  • storing food in a shallow container and refrigerating
  • portioning larger meals into smaller portions and separate containers before refrigerating
  • ensuring there is enough space in the refrigerator or esky before making larger meals so food is not left out.

When heating food, ensure the reheating method heats the food to 60C or above, this includes heating by:

  • frying pan
  • microwave oven
  • oven
  • air fryer. 

It is important to check all areas of food to ensure the whole meal is outside the danger zone. Some reheating methods like using a microwave, may heat only the bottom or outside of the food. 

Use the 2-hour/4-hour guide  

Anytime a food may have been left out within the danger zone, 5C- 60C, apply the following rules to limit the chance of food poisoning or bacteria growing.

  • Less than 2 hours in the danger zone: refrigerate or use immediately
  • Between 2 and 4 hours: use immediately
  • More than 4 hours: throw the food away. Do not eat.

If in doubt, throw it out! 

Last updated Monday 6th May 2024