The Four C's of Food Safety

Stay safe by following the four C’s of food safety. This useful guide will help you keep food poisoning bacteria out of your student kitchen. Nothing ruins the semester like a bout of runny tummy, or even a trip to hospital.

From under-cooking food to ignoring ‘Use-by’ dates, the consequences of unsafe food preparation can be a lot more than a funny tummy.  In fact, for the very young, older people and those with a weaker immune system, it’s not funny at all – food poisoning can have a devastating effect. Check out the four C’s below and you’ll keep food poisoning well away from your student digs.


Germs like salmonella and E. coli can give you food poisoning. Nasty. But the good news is you can kill ‘em through cooking. Follow these tips to make sure your food’s cooked properly:

  • Always follow the instructions on the label.
  • Some foods change colour when they’re cooked so you can check this too.
  • Always check your food is steaming hot in the middle – there should be steam coming out when you cut open the food.
  • If you cook frozen vegetables, including sweetcorn, it needs to be cooked before you can eat it and if you want to use these as part of a cold salad, check the instructions on the packaging first. After cooking, cool the food down as quickly as possible (ideally within two hours), and store in a fridge. They should be eaten within two days.
  • If you’re cooking a large dish you may have to check in more than one place that it is cooked properly.
  • Don't reheat food more than once.
  • When reheating, take extra care your food’s cooked all the way through.


Your fridge is a weapon in the battle against germs, but you’ve got to use it effectively. Here are a few cool pointers to remember:

  • Keep it at the right temperature (between 0°C and 5°C).
  • Keep the fridge door closed as much as possible.
  • Wait for food to cool down before you put it in the fridge.
  • If your fridge is full, you might need to turn the temperature down to help fight germs.
  • Some germs can still grow at cold temperatures, so eat leftovers within two days.
  • Keep food out of the fridge for the shortest time you can.
  • When you're eating outside at a barbecue or picnic, chill with a cool bag or cool box.
  • If you're putting out food for a party, try not to leave it out for more than four hours. Otherwise germs might have a flat party of their own.

The freezer’s a good place to make sure you’ve always got food in stock and it helps to stop you wasting food. 

Cartoon of a green bacteria bug on a blue background.

For safety, it's ok to freeze most raw or cooked foods as long as you do the following sensible stuff:

  • Freeze it before the 'use by' date.
  • Follow any freezing or thawing instructions on the label.
  • Thaw it in the fridge so that it doesn't get too warm. Or, if you intend to cook it as soon as it's defrosted, you could defrost it in a microwave.
  • Use food within one to two days after it’s been defrosted – it will go off in the same way as if it were fresh.
  • Cook food until it's steaming hot all the way through or reaches a core temperature of 75°C.

Cross Cotamination

Don’t let germs spread around your kitchen and invade food that's ready to eat. That’s called cross contamination. Bacteria can spread from food to surfaces, and from surfaces to food. This is one of the major causes of food poisoning.

Raw meat and fish can contain seriously nasty bacteria that spread very easily to anything they touch, including other foods, worktops, chopping boards and knives.

It's extra important to keep raw meat and fish away from ready-to-eat food, such as your flatmate’s quinoa salad, fruit and bread. This is because these types of food won't be cooked before you eat them, so any bacteria that get onto the food won't be killed.

Here are a few simple things you can do to help stop contamination happening:

  • Keep raw meat and unwashed vegetables separate from ready-to-eat food during storage and preparation.
  • Don’t let raw meat drip onto other food (gross) – keep it in sealed containers at the bottom of your fridge.
  • Never use the same chopping board for raw meat and ready-to-eat food without washing the board (and knife) thoroughly in between – repeat, never!
  • Don’t wash meat before cooking it. Washing doesn't get rid of the harmful germs that can be present – only proper cooking will. You also run the risk of splashing germs onto worktops and utensil. It’s less hassle not to anyway!


Right now, your hands could be carrying germs – thousands of them. They're invisible, and can easily spread off your mitts onto food, making you and your loved ones ill.

Keep yourself and your kitchen clean by washing and drying your hands thoroughly:

  • Before preparing food
  • After touching raw food, especially meat
  • After going to the toilet

Other tips include keeping your worktops clean by washing them before you prepare food, wiping up any spilt food, and always washing worktops thoroughly after they’ve been touched by raw meat, including poultry and eggs.

Find out more about food safety on the Food Standards Scotland website. 

Head back to the Food Standards Scotland campaign page for more information on food safety, healthy eating tips and more.