The term "food hygiene" is used to describe the preservation and preparation of foods in a manner that ensures the food is safe for human consumption. This term typically refers to these practices at an individual or family level, whereas the term "food sanitation" usually refers to these types of procedures at the commercial level within the food industry, such as during production and packaging or at stores or restaurants. Food hygiene in the home kitchen includes things such as the proper storage of food before use, washing one's hands before handling food, maintaining a clean environment when preparing food and making sure that all serving dishes are clean and free of contaminants.
Meats must be stored and cooked properly as part of proper food hygiene. Many people use containers that are especially designed for use in a freezer to preserve raw meats for later use. Freezing helps slow the process of decay, thus minimizing the chances for food poisoning when the meat is used later. Unfrozen meats should be stored in a refrigerator at a temperature of 40° Fahrenheit (4.44° Celsius) or less. Meats also should be cooked thoroughly and to the proper temperature — at least 140° to 165° Fahrenheit (60° to 74° Celsius), depending on the specific type of meat — before being eaten.
Storing food correctly can help maintain its quality so that it will be safe to eat. With dry goods such as sugar or flour, proper food hygiene calls for placing them in airtight containers that are clean and dry. The containers are then placed into a pantry or on a kitchen counter where they will be relatively safe from humidity and extreme temperatures.
Food hygiene also includes keeping preparation areas clean and germ-free. Mixing bowls, spoons, paring knives and any other tools used in the kitchen should be washed thoroughly before they are used, as well as after. Kitchen countertops and cutting boards also should be cleaned and sterilized from time to time. Keeping the workspace is sanitary decreases the chance that food will be contaminated and make people sick.
Preventing cross-contamination also is an important aspect of food hygiene. this can occur when cooking and preparation utensils are used with more than one type of food without being washed in between. For example, if the knife used to cut raw chicken is also used to chop lettuce for a salad, there is a chance that Salmonella bacteria will be transferred to the lettuce. This bacteria is killed when the chicken is cooked, but can continue to live on the vegetable, and could make someone who eats it sick with food poisoning. A cook might run a sink full of hot soapy water as part of the preparation process, then drop each utensil in after using it. This not only makes it easier to clean up after the food is prepared, it also prevents unwashed utensils from being reused.
One aspect of food hygiene that some people do not address is cleaning dishes before placing them on the table before a meal. Although dishes that have been in a cupboard are likely to be relatively clean, a quick rinse with hot water and a small amount of dish soap will prevent stray bacteria from or other contaminants from being on the dishes. This is especially important for dishes that have not been used for quite a while, such as those reserved for special occasions.
Food that has been cooked or prepared is often safe to eat for only a few hours. After that time, the food should be refrigerated or thrown away. If food is left out for too long, bacteria could begin to grow on it. Consuming spoiled or contaminated food could result in food poisoning or other illness.