This leaflet is for all food businesses, including those involved in catering, food production, food preparation, retail premises, restaurants, pubs, cafes, and fast-food shops.

What are high-risk foods?
Foods that are ready to eat, foods that don't need any further cooking, and foods that provide a place for bacteria to live, grow and thrive are described as high-risk foods.

Examples of high-risk foods include:

  • cooked meat and fish
  • gravy, stock, sauces and soup
  • shellfish
  • dairy products such as milk, cream and soya milk
  • cooked rice

How do bacteria multiply on food?
In the right conditions bacteria can multiply very quickly and, depending on the type of bacteria and the conditions, can double in number every 10 to 20 minutes. These multiplying bacteria cells take nutrients from their surroundings through the cell wall and also excrete waste products (known as 'toxins') that can poison people when eaten.

To multiply, bacteria need:

  • protein
  • moisture
  • warmth
  • neutral ph conditions (not too acid or alkaline)
  • enough time to multiply

For example, bacteria can easily multiply on a raw chicken but we would not describe this as a high-risk food, unless you intended to eat it raw.

However, a cooked chicken has already been prepared and cooked and is now meant to be eaten without any further action. If the chicken is contaminated after this point it could result in food poisoning and other food-related illnesses, and so may be described as a high-risk food.

An apple may contain a lot of moisture but doesn't have enough protein to encourage bacteria to grow, so would not be described as a high-risk food.

How do I prevent or control food contamination?
Once food is high risk you must protect it from contamination - both direct and indirect.

An example of direct contamination may be from raw food touching cooked food in a fridge or on a work surface. An example of indirect contamination could be using a knife to cut cooked meat straight after using it to cut raw meat, without first cleaning it properly. Another example would be if a food handler touches raw food or scratches themselves and then handles cooked food. A cloth you use for many different things can indirectly cross-contaminate from raw to cooked foods.

Controlling the temperature of high risk foods
Freezing will stop the bacteria that cause food poisoning from multiplying. You should set a freezer so the temperature of the food is kept at or below -18°C. Bacteria will start to multiply again once the food is defrosted.

Keeping food in the fridge will slow the rate at which bacteria multiply. You should set your fridge to operate from 1°C to 4°C to make sure food temperatures don't rise higher than 8°C. It is a legal requirement that your fridge temperature is below 8°C.

You should wrap all stored food and keep raw and cooked food apart. You should keep raw food stored below cooked food - if possible you should keep raw food and cooked food in separate fridges. Ideally, you should keep a fridge marked 'Raw meat only' in an area away from where you prepare and process cooked food.

Preventing cross-contamination
To minimise the risk of cross-contamination, you should design a kitchen or food preparation area so you can prepare raw food away from ready-to-eat food (high-risk foods). This means separate work surfaces, food-preparation sinks, machinery and utensils. The term 'linear workflow' means checking food through the kitchen or processing area in a continuous flow from its raw to cooked stages (a process also known as 'dirty to clean').

Equipment such as slicers, chopping boards and knives should all be cleaned thoroughly and disinfected after being used for raw meat and vegetables, before they are used to prepare ready-to-eat foods.

You can use colour coding to help you and your staff follow the rules by separating equipment for different uses. Colour coding is often used for chopping boards but you can also use it for knife handles, cloths, and even food-preparation areas.

An example of a colour coded scheme is:

Colour coding scheme

As the 'business operator' (the business operator is often the business owner) you must provide adequate hand-wash facilities with basins or sinks that are only used for washing hands. They must have a supply of hot and cold water, a supply of soap, (preferably liquid soap in a dispenser) and drying facilities (preferably disposable paper towels with a foot-operated bin). You should train your staff to use these facilities and monitor them to make sure they continue to use them regularly.

High risk food that is displayed should be protected from the customer as much as possible - trained staff should serve and package it.

Areas where cooked and raw foods are offered for sale should both have separate utensils, scales and display areas. Staff working in these areas should make sure they use strict techniques to make sure that cross-contamination doesn't happen. You should use different staff for each area if you can. If you can't do this, you should have strict hand-washing practices in place.

You and your staff can wear gloves but you should change them between areas and tasks. You should remember that, if you use gloves, they are to protect the food from the handler, not to protect the handler from the food. Gloves are not an alternative to hand washing. You should change your gloves as often as you would wash your hands.

More information
You will find further guidance in our other leaflets on this website. Information can also be found on the Food Standards Agency website.

Alternatively, contact your local environmental health service for advice.

Please note
This leaflet is not an authoritative interpretation of the law and is intended only for guidance.

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