How to operate your food business safely

Estimates of foodborne illness within Australia are 5.4 million cases per year (14,800 cases per day), with about 120 deaths annually. The cost of these levels of foodborne disease is estimated to be $1.2 billion per year (Department of Health and Ageing, unpublished).

The social consequences of foodborne disease includes both temporary and serious chronic illness and even death.

It is the responsibility of you and your staff to ensure compliance with all requirements of the Food Act 2006 and the Food Standards Code. To help you comply with these requirements, there are tools and resources in this page that you can use in day-to-day operations of your business. File and store completed templates and checklists as part of your business records.

Food safety training

The completion of food safety training assists in improving food safety work practices in the workplace.

All persons undertaking food handling operations within a food business must have appropriate skills and knowledge in food safety matters (accredited or non-accredited training).

Food safety training services and resources are available from various sources (in house, external providers, training organisations, etc.) and in a variety of formats (online, classroom based, booklets, fact sheets, etc.).

The following food safety training tools and resources (non-accredited) are available for free:

Temporary food stalls

Temporary food stall set up

The temporary nature of outdoor events and markets means that all of the structural requirements of the food laws cannot be applied. However, certain minimum requirements are necessary to ensure a high standard of food handling and safe food. If food sold at a market stall is not prepared at the stall, you must ensure the premises where it was prepared meets the minimum requirements of the Food Act 2006 and has a licence if needed. This includes food that is prepared at home. All market stalls must be operated in a safe and hygienic manner.

For further information on minimum standards refer to the Artists impression – minimum standards for the operation of a temporary food stall (PDF, 774.68 KB). You can print off and use labels to mark your waste water, hand washing and utensil containers (PDF, 170.21 KB). The market stall equipment checklist (PDF, 84.84 KB) can help you check if you have the right equipment for your market stall.

Taste testing

Taste testing or sampling of foods can be a great way for your potential customers to ‘try before they buy’. However, if not done properly and hygienically, samples can be a source of food contamination and could spread diseases. Food that is not protected from contamination can make your customers sick.

There are many potential risks associated with taste testing:

  • people - if people contaminate your food samples by breathing, coughing or touching, diseases can be spread. Someone sneezing nearby could easily contaminate samples that are unprotected
  • bacteria - some bacteria and viruses can survive for hours on the surface of food. Bacteria contamination can occur if samples are not kept at correct temperatures or not separated from other foods that may cause contamination
  • the surrounding environment - animals, dust, foreign objects and chemicals can also cause contamination.

While taste testing can be an effective way to sell your product, it is in your best interest, and in the interest of your customers' health, to keep your food samples free from all types of contamination.

Preparing or manufacturing the food

If you provide taste testing for your customers, you need to ensure that the food has been properly prepared. You need to ensure that the food has been prepared at a premises that complies with the Food Act 2006 and the Food Safety Standards, and is licensed under the Act, if required. If you are cooking, preparing or displaying food samples on site, for example at a market, you may need to hold a licence to operate a temporary food stall. Even if you are offering samples for taste testing of certain pre-packaged foods you may still require a licence to operate a temporary food stall.  All temporary food stalls (regardless of if a licence is needed or not) will need to meet the minimum requirements of the Act and the Food Safety Standards.

Transporting the food

All food must be protected from contamination during transport. It should be kept totally sealed and transported in a clean vehicle.

  • If the food is potentially hazardous (that is, required to be kept hot or cold), careful consideration must be given to how you are going to transport the food and maintain correct temperatures.
  • Cold food must be kept at 5°C or less. Use refrigerated vehicles or, for shorter time periods, an esky packed with ice.
  • Hot food must be kept at 60°C or higher. Use vehicles that are equipped to keep food hot or, for shorter time periods, insulated hot bags.
  • You must have a food thermometer with you to ensure that food is kept at the required temperatures at all times.
  • Where potentially hazardous food has not been kept under temperature control for a period exceeding 4 hours, for example during transporting or display, this food must be discarded. It must not be sold, given away or offered for sampling.

Serving the food

When serving, it is important to keep the food protected from all the different types of contamination.

Ways to protect food from contamination

  • Provide single serves of your product. Use disposable cups, spoons, toothpicks or other implements to minimise the amount of handling by the customer.
  • Provide a physical barrier, such as Perspex between the customer and the food.
  • Display small quantities, so that food samples have less time to become contaminated.
  • If required, keep the food samples hot (above 60ºC) or cold (below 5ºC). Some samples may be able to be kept without temperature control, provided that time and temperatures are carefully monitored.
  • Signage must be displayed adjacent to the taste testing stating ‘No double dipping, single serve only’. Supervise the samples to ensure that customers do not contaminate by re-dipping spoons or other items.
  • Provide litter containers so that customers can dispose of single use items, leaving the area clean and tidy.
  • Use tongs and gloves when you handle samples.

Food samples that are manufactured, prepared, transported and served correctly will have much less risk of contamination and will help you present a quality product for taste testing. For some display ideas you can download the Taste testing fact sheet (PDF, 234.23 KB).

Food storage and temperature control

Temperature control

You need to ensure that potentially hazardous food is at 5°C or colder or at 60°C or hotter when it is received, displayed, transported or stored.

Potentially hazardous foods are foods that require certain time and temperature control to stop bacteria from growing and prevent food poisoning. Examples of potentially hazardous foods include:

  • eggs
  • cooked rice and pasta
  • raw and cooked meat
  • seafood

Find more examples of potentially hazardous foods.

It is good practice to keep records of the temperature checks you do during your operations. You can use these templates to help you:

Download the safe food storage temperatures (PDF, 735.14 KB) poster to display at your food business.

Thermometers

If your business prepares, handles, transports or sells potentially hazardous food you need to have thermometers accurate to +/-1°C to help you monitor temperatures. Find out more about thermometers and using them with potentially hazardous food.

Four-hour/two-hour guide

Potentially hazardous food should be stored, displayed and transported under temperature control, that is, below 5°C or above 60°C. Some food businesses, however, may choose to adopt an alternative method of temperature control. One of the alternative methods of temperature control is referred to as the four-hour/two-hour guide. So as to prevent the growth of bacteria that may cause food poisoning the food business must be sure to apply this alternative method properly.

Four-hour/two-hour guide

The four-hour/two-hour guide relates to how long potentially hazardous food may remain outside of temperature control. The timeframes below relate to the total time a particular food is outside of temperature control including time during preparation, storage, display and transport.

Under two hours

Food must be used or placed back under temperature control (5°C or less or 60°C or greater).

Two to four hours

Food must be used immediately - it cannot be re-refrigerated.

Four plus hours

Food must be discarded - it may have harmful levels of bacteria.

Example 1

A food business wishes to display chicken and ham sandwiches in a non-refrigerated display cabinet during the busy lunch time period. In order to do this they wish to apply the four-hour/two-hour guide. Therefore the following is necessary:

  • The food business must ensure that the chicken and ham has not undergone any prior temperature abuse. The chicken and ham must have come from a reputable supplier who is able to provide written advice that the products have been kept below 5°C during manufacture and transport to the food premises.
  • To be safe the food business should also carry out temperature checks of the food upon arrival at the food business and record these temperatures.
  • Upon arrival the products should be immediately placed under refrigeration or any time they are not under refrigeration should be documented.
  • The time taken to make up the sandwiches must be recorded as this is time that the products are outside of temperature control.
  • The sandwiches can then be displayed in the non-refrigerated cabinet for the remaining period of time according to the four-hour/two-hour guide.
  • For example, if the chicken and ham had been kept under temperature control up until delivery at the premises, then left for thirty minutes prior to being placed in the cool room, then removed from the cool room to make up sandwiches that took thirty minutes. The chicken and ham have been outside of temperature control for a total of one hour. There is only a further one hour before the sandwiches can be either used or refrigerated, a further one to three hours before they must be used or a further three hours before they are to be discarded.
  • In the event that an environmental health officer arrives at the premises to carry out an inspection the food business must be able to present the written documentation of how long the sandwiches have been outside of temperature control and be aware of what action must be taken once the time limits have expired.

Example 2

Using the four-hour/two-hour guide for food that has been previously cooked and cooled. The four-hour/two-hour guide may be used where food has been cooked and cooled in accordance with the Food Safety Standards. For example after cooking rice it is then allowed to cool from  60°C to 21°C within two hours and then from 21°C to 5°C within a further four hours. This food may then be held outside of temperature control in accordance with the four-hour/two-hour guide. 

To be safe it is best to always store and display food under temperature control and if in doubt do not sell food you suspect may be contaminated or that may have been subjected to temperature abuse.

Cooling and reheating potentially hazardous food

Cooling potentially hazardous food

If you cook potentially hazardous food that you intend to cool and use later, you need to cool the food as quickly as possible. 

Food must be cooled from:

  • 60°C to 21°C within two hours
  • from 21°C to 5°C within a further maximum period of four hours.

If you want to cool food over a longer time period you must be able to show council that you have a safe alternative system in place.

If you don’t know how fast your food is cooling, use a probe thermometer to measure the warmest part of the food – usually in the centre and use the cooling and reheating logsheet (DOC, 67 KB) to record results.

To chill food quickly, divide it into smaller portions in shallow containers. Take care not to contaminate the food as you do it. Containers placed into an ice bath is also a good way to cool food quickly.

Reheating previously cooked potentially hazardous food

If you reheat previously cooked and cooled potentially hazardous food, you must reheat it rapidly. You should reheat food:

  • to 60°C within a maximum of two hours.

This requirement applies only to potentially hazardous food that you want to hold hot, for example, on your stove or in a food display unit. It does not apply to food you reheat and then immediately serve to customers for consumption, for example, in a restaurant or a take away shop.

Buffet style self-service food

It is essential that openly displayed or unpackaged food at self-serve buffets is safe to eat. Business operators can make sure food is safe through proper planning, observing food safety controls and constant supervision.

The risks

Open service food is susceptible to contamination and spoilage for a number of reasons. They include:

  • patrons accessing food in a self-serve fashion, which means the business loses control of verifiable ‘kitchen to table’ food safety
  • the vulnerability of the food to accidental or deliberate tampering or malpractice
  • inadequately covered or protected food being contaminated by air, insects or physical matter
  • indirect contamination of uncovered or unpackaged food through patrons coughing, sneezing or even talking, as physical barriers (sneeze guards) are not always effective
  • the difficulty of maintaining open service food at required temperatures of 5°C or below / 60°C or above.

Recommended control measures

  • Adopt an accredited Hazard Analysis Critical Control Point (HACCP) Food Safety Plan and have the system independently audited.
  • Buy all foods from approved HACCP suppliers.
  • Where possible, use non-potentially hazardous foods.
  • Prepare meals using the correct food handling procedures, hygiene practices and contamination controls. Rapid chill and reheat rules should be followed.
  • Make sure all workers have completed food safety training and have a professional approach to their work. Make sure the premises are clean and maintained in accordance with the National Food Safety Standards.
  • Stack plates, cups and glasses so they are protected from contamination and wrap or store cutlery vertically with the handle up.
  • Make sure food display equipment, including the buffet unit, containers and implements, are appropriately designed to best protect the food.
  • Keep hot food at 60°C or above and cold food at 5°C or below.
  • It is advisable not to display a food dish on the buffet for more than one hour.
  • Limit the quantity of each food item displayed.
  • Never top-up displayed food dishes but replace them with fresh food.
  • Never reuse previously displayed food except hermetically sealed and safe items.
  • Provide separate serving utensils for each displayed food item.
  • Advise patrons of required food safety procedures with clearly visible, easy-to-understand signage. Use appropriate symbols whenever possible.
  • Recommend that when children are serving themselves food, they be accompanied by an adult.
  • Recommend patrons use a clean plate each time they return to the buffet.
  • Closely supervise the food display. Video surveillance is recommended.
  • Advise patrons when they are doing the wrong thing.

Find out more about buffet style self-service food (PDF, 458.84 KB).

Cleaning and sanitising

Food premises must be continually cleaned to ensure all surfaces and equipment that come in contact with food do not contain food poisoning bacteria. Cleaning and sanitising cooking utensils, tableware and equipment used to prepare food, is essential for the safe operation of any food business.

Three basic steps to effective cleaning

  1. Clean with a detergent and hot water. Cleaning only removes the dirt from the surface but does not kill all the bacteria.
  2. As dirt inhibits the effectiveness of a sanitiser, only sanitise on a cleaned surface. Sanitisers need contact time to work, so items such as utensils should be left to soak.
  3. Drip dry tableware and utensils. This will prevent them from becoming recontaminated by wiping with a dirty cloth or tea towel.

What is the difference between cleaning and sanitising?

Cleaning is the removal of visible dirt, grease and other material whereas sanitising is the use of heat or chemicals to reduce bacteria. Neither method removes or kills all bacteria.

A cleaning schedule

All premises need a cleaning schedule to ensure all areas are kept clean and sanitised. Work surfaces such as food preparation benches and equipment are more prone to contamination, and require more attention. Read the Queensland Health cleaning and sanitising fact sheet for an example cleaning schedule.

Creating the schedule

Walk through your premises and make a list of all the items that need cleaning. Start with items like the structure (floor, walls and ceilings), equipment, fittings, and fixtures. Consider items not cleaned frequently, as well as daily items.

Beside each item listed to clean, write down the cleaning product and cleaning method. Fill in details on how often it should be cleaned (i.e. daily, weekly). Also write down the person responsible for making sure the task is completed and the date to be completed by.

Implementing the schedule

  • Laminate the chart and use a water-based marker to tick the completed column when the task is done
  • Ensure staff know how the schedule works and the role they should play
  • Ensure staff carry out regular checks on their areas
  • Place the schedule on the wall so it can be easily seen by all staff
  • Review the schedule regularly and check that all tasks are completed.

General cleaning guidelines

  • Clean up all spills straight away.
  • Clean and sanitise all cutting boards and preparation benches after each use. This is particularly important when changing from preparing raw to cooked foods.
  • Each day, clean and sanitise areas and appliances directly involved with food preparation.
  • Schedule areas, such as shelving and exhaust canopies, for cleaning and sanitising on a weekly basis. Exhaust canopy filters can be cleaned by external contractors.
  • Store cleaning products away from food.
  • Use different cloths for cleaning different types of food areas and equipment i.e. one cloth may be used for the waste area and another for the handwashing basin.
  • Soak cleaning cloths in sanitiser on a daily basis.
  • Guidelines for cleaning shopping trolleys, baskets and checkout conveyors.

 

Animals and Pests

Pest management

The presence of vermin and insects in or near your premises is bad for business. Insects and vermin carry diseases. They can contaminate your food, make your customers sick, and will drive away customers.

What are the most common pests?

  • Cockroaches live and hide in sewers and drains. They like dark and moist areas – especially kitchens. Bacteria are carried on their legs, body and in their saliva. Bacteria are then transferred to equipment, utensils and eventually food, causing foodborne illness.
  • Flies lay their eggs in warm, moist places such as waste food and refuse. In summer temperatures the egg can develop into a maggot, and then an adult fly, in as little as ten days. A fly eats by regurgitating liquid from its stomach onto the food. The liquid dissolves the solid food and the fly then mops up the liquid with its mouth. This liquid contains bacteria, which are transferred onto food and equipment. The fly also carries bacteria on its feet, hair and faeces.
  • Rats and mice can cause destruction of food crops, buildings and electrical cables, in addition to transmitting diseases. Most of the damage they do is physical, such as gnawing. Food can become contaminated by their droppings, urine and hairs. They carry bacteria from soil, waste food and refuse, on their fur and feet, transferring them to uncovered food and surfaces.

How do I control pests?

Pests need the same things we do – shelter, warmth and food. Take away these things and they will soon find somewhere more favourable to live.

  • Make it hard for pests to enter your premises by maintaining your building and structures so that there is nowhere for them to hide. e.g. seal any holes in walls, and behind equipment.
  • Keep surfaces clean so there is nothing for them to eat.
  • Contact a licensed pest control operator to visit on a regular basis.

How do I prevent pests?

  • Contact a licensed pest control operator for an assessment of your premises. The operator will recommend a program suited to your needs for controlling pests and recommend a maintenance schedule. Ensure the operator provides you with documentation proving that a pest treatment has been done.
  • Check deliveries for pests and droppings, and if any food is found to be contaminated, refuse the delivery and contact the supplier. 
  • Regularly check the premises for pests by looking in cupboards where food is stored for signs such as droppings, packages with holes in the bottom, and cockroaches behind refrigerators and equipment.
  • Undertake a cleaning program.
  • Cover all food with secure lids.
  • Repair all holes in walls, floors and ceilings.
  • Place screens on doors and windows.
  • Remove waste regularly and store away from food operations.
  • Clean waste storage areas regularly and store away from food operations.

Animals and pets

Animals are generally not allowed in a food business, however, you can keep live seafood, fish and shellfish. Assistance dogs are allowed in customer eating and drinking areas. Find more about access rights for guide, hearing and assistance dogs

You can choose to allow dogs in your outdoor dining area. Find out more about dogs in outdoor dining areas and tips for maintaining food safety standards.

You can download and use posters in your food business to help inform your customers:

Food poisoning

Even food that looks, tastes and smells good can make you sick.

Food poisoning is caused by bacteria, natural toxins and chemicals. The most common cause is bacteria. Foodborne illness occurs when food poisoning bacteria contaminate food and multiply to dangerous levels, due to poor food handling and storage. In order to multiply to these levels, bacteria need food, warmth, moisture and time.

There are two types of bacteria: those that spoil food and those that cause food poisoning. Some people wrongly believe food poisoning bacteria will make food smell, taste and look bad. Harmless microbes can cause food to smell off, taste bad and look terrible – and still not make us ill. Food poisoning bacteria, however, is quite different.

Bacteria love to breed in high risk foods. High risk foods are likely to cause food poisoning if not stored, prepared or cooked properly. High risk foods include:

  • meat and poultry – bacteria such as Salmonella and E. Coli occur naturally in raw meat and poultry so ensure meats are thoroughly cooked to kill bacteria
  • gravy and stews – bacteria such as Clostridium perfringens, are a food poisoning bacteria commonly associated with these foods. Gravies prepared and cooled in large batches provide a perfect, warm environment for growth, and increase the risk of food poisoning. Divide into smaller batches to cool faster
  • milk, cream and egg products – the use of raw eggs and unpasteurised milk products, which may contain bacteria such as Salmonella, can cause food poisoning. Use only clean and uncracked eggs and pasteurised milk products
  • seafood – much of the seafood we eat is raw and not cooked before eating, so ensure seafood is stored at the right temperature to prevent food poisoning.

Ten common contributors to food poisoning

  • Inadequate refrigeration – store high risk food at 5˚C or less.
  • Food stored at room temperature – minimise the time high risk food is stored at room temperature (a maximum of 4 hours). 
  • Food prepared too far in advance – can increase the likelihood of contamination and time in the ‘danger zone’.
  • Inadequate cooling – cool food quickly in small batches.  
  • Inadequate re-heating – heat food quickly to over 60˚C to destroy bacteria.
  • Inadequate thawing – ensure raw meat such as poultry is thawed thoroughly so the cooking process heats the internal temperature to over 60˚C, destroying bacteria naturally present.
  • Poor housekeeping – clean premises reduce the number of bacteria that can be transferred during food preparation.
  • Cross contamination – staff with good food handling practices will reduce the likelihood of cross contamination. 
  • Contaminated processed food – use reputable suppliers to ensure you receive good quality food.
  • Poor personal hygiene – ensure staff know and practice good personal hygiene habits.

Seafood and food poisoning

Some types of fish and seafood have naturally occuring seafood toxins and indigestible oils which can cause food poisoning. These Queensland Health fact sheets will help you understand more about these types of food poisoning. 

Waste management

Food scraps and rubbish from shops and factories that are not disposed of properly can cause problems. Rotting food scraps mixed with other rubbish will begin to smell and will quickly attract cockroaches, rodents and flies.

It is important to ensure your rubbish is adequately protected from vermin and pests, and does not create an odour problem for you, or your neighbours. Your bins should be cleaned regularly (as part of a cleaning schedule) and be removed from the roadside as soon as possible after collection. Bin wastes must not be allowed to flow into the street, other properties or stormwater drains.

Waste management tips

  • Choose bins large enough to hold all of your rubbish.
  • Keep your bins clean and in good condition by making sure they have secure fitting lids and that both the lid and bin are not split or broken. If so, replace the bin.
  • Deodorise the bin as required to reduce the odour.
  • Make sure your bin has a lid that fits. This will stop mice, flies and cockroaches being attracted to the bin and transferring dirt and diseases from the bin to clean benches or crockery in your kitchen. 
  • Store outdoor bins on a paved area that can be easily cleaned. The area should be graded towards a sewer outlet to enable liquids which leak out of bins to be collected properly. Do not allow discharge to stormwater outlets, as this can attract an on the spot fine.
  • Don’t let your rubbish sit rotting. Waste should be removed at least once a week, or more frequently if required, through a waste contractor.
  • Organic materials should be wrapped or bagged to prevent nuisance and odour problems occurring. Store smelly items such as seafood in bags in the freezer until your rubbish is collected.

Help cut your waste costs

Much of the rubbish you produce can be recycled. Council can provide you with a list of recycling companies in your area and can also assist with ideas on how to reduce waste.

Food handling and preparation

Cross contamination

Cross contamination is the transfer of bacteria from one item to another. It may happen through direct contact, leakage of juices, incorrect food handling, or equipment or work surfaces. Find out more about cross contamination and how to prevent it. 

Water quality

You need to ensure the water you use in your food business is safe. If you don't have access to a reticulated or town water supply you need to follow the Queensland Health guidelines on the use of non-reticulated water in a food business. You can find out more about water quality in the Australian drinking water guidelines.

Handling different foods

You can find out more about handling different types of foods: 

Food handler health and hygiene

The Queensland Health food handler health and hygiene fact sheet has more information about health, hygiene and hand washing.

You can download posters to display in your business with food safety tips for your employees:

Food labelling

You can find information on food labelling in these Queensland Health fact sheets and guidelines:

Fundraising and donations

If you are preparing food for fund raising events or donating to charities, you need to make sure the food is safe. Find out the rules for donating food and how to prepare, cook, and serve food safely in food safety for fundraising events.