Introduction to food safety at home

Foodborne illness, or food poisoning, strikes about 200,000 New Zealanders every year. Following handwashing rules and the 3 Cs – clean, cook, and chill – can help keep you safe from bugs in food.

Wash your hands before preparing food

Handwashing is one of the best ways to prevent pathogens (harmful bugs) from spreading to your food.

How to wash your hands

Use soap and warm running water, rubbing vigorously, for 20 seconds.

  1. Clean under each fingernail using soap and a nail brush.
  2. Dry your hands for 20 seconds using a clean dry towel, or paper towel.

You should wash your hands after:

  • handling raw meat and poultry
  • going to the toilet or changing nappies
  • handling pets or animals
  • gardening
  • other activities that make your hands dirty.

How to wash your hands information card [PDF, 226 KB]

Hand-washing advice – Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (US Government)

Clean, cook, chill

Following the 3 Cs can help keep you safe from bugs in food and reduce the chances of food poisoning.


Good food hygiene starts with clean hands, but it’s also important to make sure your cooking area and tools are clean.

  • Wash surfaces, chopping boards and utensils (like knives) with soap and water and rinse in clean water:
    • before you use them to handle and prepare food
    • between preparation of raw and cooked foods.
  • Benches and boards – wipe with a dilute solution of bleach (1 teaspoon of bleach in 2 litres of water) after cleaning.
  • Carefully wash and dry all food storage containers before use.
  • Use different sponges or cloths for the dishes, the bench, and the floor. Keep them separate.
  • Use paper towels to clean up messy spills like raw meat juices, then wipe with a cloth and hot water and detergent.
  • Change reuseable dish cloths or sponges regularly. Clean by rinsing, then:
    • soaking overnight in a shallow dish of water with 5 to 10 drops of household bleach
    • microwaving for 3 to 4 minutes on high, or
    • putting through the hot wash cycle in the dishwasher.
  • Use a dishwasher or hot soapy water to wash dishes. Let dishes air dry rather than drying with a tea towel.
  • Always cover stored food – even in the fridge or cupboard. You should also cover food when eating outside, to keep out unwanted insects and bugs.
  • Use plastic film or foil to cover foods, or put into containers with tight-sealing lids.
  • Keep raw meat and chicken away from ready-to-eat food, fruit and vegetables. Store at the bottom of the fridge to prevent any juices – which can contain harmful bacteria – from dripping onto other foods


Make sure food is cooked through to kill harmful bacteria.

  • Defrost frozen foods thoroughly, or they won't cook properly in the middle. Defrost food in your fridge overnight, or use the defrost setting on your microwave.
  • Cook chicken, mince, and sausages right through. Pork and poultry juices should run clear. Use a meat thermometer to check temperatures at the middle of the thickest part (internal temperature should be 75 degrees Celsius).
  • Keep raw and cooked foods separate – use one set of utensils for raw meat and chicken and another set for cooked food. Put cooked items on a clean plate, not one that's been used for raw ingredients.
  • Refrigerate or freeze any leftovers within 2 hours. Cool hot food in small portions to speed cooling, then refrigerate in a covered container.
  • Reheat leftovers until steaming hot (over 75 degrees Celsius) and do not reheat more than once.  
  • Check the use-by dates on packaged foods. Don’t buy or eat once this date has passed.


Most harmful bacteria cannot grow at low refrigeration temperatures. Set your fridge temperature between 2 degrees Celsius and 5 degrees Celsius and follow these tips.

  • Cool hot foods for up to 30 minutes before refrigerating to prevent raising the temperature of stored food.
  • Never leave food at room temperature for more than 2 hours. If the room temperature is warm, you should refrigerate sooner as bacteria multiply more quickly.
  • Keep your fridge clean, and wipe up any spills immediately. And don't overfill your fridge – this can mean some food isn't kept cool.
  • If eating outdoors, use an icepack or chilly bin to keep food cold. 
  • Keep a chilly bag or bin in your car to transport chilled or frozen foods, and transfer these to the fridge or freezer as soon as you get home. Use an icepack if you have long travel times after shopping, or won’t be going home straight away.

Safe barbecuing

  • Make sure your barbecue and cooking tools have been cleaned with soap and water before using.
  • Have separate utensils, plates and other equipment for raw and cooked foods – using just one set will mean you transfer pathogens from raw meats to cooked foods.
  • Don’t place or prepare raw meat on the grill next to cooked or partially cooked meat or other ready-to-eat foods.
  • Precook chicken, sausages and minced meat, then barbecue until meat is steaming hot (over 75 degrees Celsius) all the way through.
  • Turn food regularly so that it cooks evenly.
  • Marinate meat in a covered container in the fridge and cook the marinade before pouring it over cooked foods.
  • Keep all food covered and cool until ready to cook or eat.

Take extra care in hot weather

In summer, you need to take special care when preparing, cooking and storing food. Summer brings warm moist conditions – the ideal situation for pathogens to multiply quickly and cause food poisoning. Follow the clean, cook, cover, chill rules, but take extra care especially when barbecuing.

Know which foods are higher risk

Some foods, like raw meat, seafood, rice, and potato flakes, are more likely to carry harmful bacteria. These bacteria can thrive if the food is not stored, transported, prepared, or cooked safely.

Treat these foods with extra care when preparing, cooking and storing.

Advice about reusable shopping bags and containers

Reusable shopping bags

It’s important to keep your reusable shopping bags clean.

To minimise any contamination risk, reusable shopping bags should be washed regularly.

Also, separate different types of food to reduce cross-contamination:

  • Separate raw meats, poultry, or fish from your dry goods, produce, and ready-to-eat foods.
  • Follow this rule in the kitchen, the fridge, your grocery cart, and with your grocery bags or containers.

Reusable food containers

When bringing your own containers to the supermarket deli, there are three common-sense steps you can follow to ensure that the food you purchase stays safe to eat.

  • Make sure your containers are clean and dry before storing any type of food.
  • Make sure the containers you bring don’t leak, the lids have a good seal, and are in good shape.
  • Keep deli and raw items sealed (and ideally separated) in a chilly bin filled with ice packs when transporting.

Other food safety shopping tips

  • Make sure raw meats, poultry, and fish are well wrapped and packaging is not leaking before you leave the supermarket or store.
  • Plan to do your food shopping last when out and about. Take it straight home.
  • Take a chilly bag or bin in your car to transport chilled or frozen foods. Transfer these to the fridge or freezer as soon as you get home. Use an ice pack if you have long travel times after shopping, or won’t be going home straight away.

Follow the clean, cook, chill steps to keep you safe

Find out more

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