This is a complex and mis-understood subject.

The trick is to not allow massive colonies of bacteria to develop.

Cleanliness and prompt cooking are the key.

Wash everything thoroughly, the bench, your hands, everything!

Don’t leave the meat out to come to room temperature, not only is this a Myth, but it is also dangerous!

Do not wash meat, you are just spreading bacteria around!

Cook meat to temperature.

There is Bacteria on everything around you, the prep bench, the meat, your face, your knife, the cutting board, everything! You can’t see them, but they are there, not all bacteria are bad though.

One of the biggest problems is the neurotoxin in the bacteria’s excrement. It is heat stable and is still there, long after the bacteria have died.

When you slice a steak and cook it, there is bacteria on the exterior, but cooking will subject that surface to massive heat and that kills the bacteria.

If you mince the steak, you have spread the bacteria throughout the meat and this is why you can have a Rare or even Bleu steak but you should always thoroughly cook a hamburger or meatloaf.

Don’t let cooked meat “Hang Around”, either hold it above 66°C (140°F) or chill it to 4°C (40°F) or less.

What follows is a direct quote from Food Standards Australia and New Zealand

It is aimed at the food service industry but is also useful information for the home cook

Temperature control 

The food safety standards specify that potentially hazardous foods must be stored, displayed and transported at safe temperatures and, where possible, prepared at safe temperatures. However, you can also use time, rather than temperature, to keep food safe. This method is explained under ‘ The 2 hour/4 hour guide’ .

Safe temperatures are 5°C or colder, or 60°C or hotter. Potentially hazardous food needs to be kept at these temperatures to prevent food-poisoning bacteria, which may be present in the food, from multiplying to dangerous levels. These bacteria can grow at temperatures between 5°C and 60°C, which is known as the temperature danger zone. The fastest rate of growth is at around 37°C, the temperature of the human body.

The food safety standards also require you to have a thermometer if you prepare, handle or sell potentially hazardous food. This will enable you to check that safe temperatures are being maintained.

What foods are potentially hazardous?

Foods normally considered to be potentially hazardous are:

  • raw meats, cooked meats and food containing meat, such as casseroles, curries, lasagne and meat pies
  • dairy products and foods containing dairy products, such as milk, cream, custard and dairy-based desserts
  • seafood (excluding live seafood) and food containing seafood, such as seafood salad
  • processed fruits and vegetables, such as prepared salads and ready-to-eat fruit packs
  • cooked rice and pasta
  • processed foods containing eggs, beans, nuts or other protein-rich food, such as quiche and soya bean products
  • foods that contain any of the above foods, such as sandwiches, rice salads and pasta salads.

Keeping food cold

When you are preparing food, make sure that you have enough refrigerator space or insulated boxes with ice bricks to store the food. It is important to remember that refrigerators do not work properly when they are overloaded or when food is packed tightly, because the cold air cannot circulate.

If you are running out of room in your refrigerator, remove foods that are not potentially hazardous, such as drinks. The temperature of these foods is not critical and they can be kept cool in insulated containers with ice or ice blocks.

Cooling foods

If potentially hazardous foods have to be cooled, their temperature should be reduced as quickly as possible. The temperature should fall from 60°C to 21°C in less than two hours and be reduced to 5°C or colder in the next four hours. It is difficult to cool food within these times unless you put food into shallow containers.

Keeping food hot

If you are keeping food hot on cooktops, in ovens or in bain marie units, the equipment needs to be set high enough to ensure that the food remains hot ( 60 ° C or hotter).

The 2 hour / 4 hour guide

Although potentially hazardous food should be kept at 5°C or colder or 60°C or hotter wherever possible, this food can be safely between 5°C and 60°C provided it is between these temperatures for less than four hours. This is because it takes more than four hours for food-poisoning bacteria to grow to dangerous levels.

The 2 hour/4 hour guide applies to ready-to-eat potentially hazardous food. It provides guidance on how long this type of food can be held safely at temperatures between 5°C and 60°C and what should happen to it after certain times. The times refer to the life of the food, including preparation and cooling, not just to display times, so remember to add up the total time that the food has been between 5°C and 60°C.

Total time limit between 5°C and 60°C What you should do
Less than 2 hours Refrigerate or use immediately
Between 2 hours and 4 hours Use immediately
More than 4 hours Throw out

Why have a thermometer?

A thermometer is essential in ensuring that food is kept at safe temperatures. If your organisation prepares, handles or sells any potentially hazardous food, it must have a thermometer which is accurate to ±1°C. This means that when the thermometer shows a temperature of 5°C, the actual temperature will be between 4°C and 6°C. The thermometer must be available for use when foods are being prepared, so you may need more than one if foods are prepared in different places.

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