What Are The 4 C’s Of Food Safety?

There are 4 C’s of food safety which are simply the four basic principles that food hygiene and safety practises are centred around. These are, cross-contamination, cleaning, cooking, and chilling. By being mindful of these very important protocols, you are helping everyone to avoid food-related illnesses such as food poisoning.

spotless commercial kitchen after applying the 4cs of food safety
Follow the 4 c’s of food safety for perfect hygiene in your cooking environment!

By following the strict but simple to follow guidelines around the 4 C’s whilst preparing and cooking food, you will keep your business at the highest possible standard of food hygiene and safety.

The 4 C’s of Food Safety – An Overview

The 4 c’s of food safety are easy to execute in your cooking environment. By following these simple sets of rules you’ll have safe, hygenic food premises that comply with UK food safety law.

1. Cross Contamination

Cross-contamination of food is very serious and when it occurs in the kitchen, it can heavily impact the workplace’s food safety standards. This problem occurs when harmful bacteria from one food source enters another food source or surface. Cross-contamination occurs most often when handling raw meat, poultry, and seafood.

The juices from raw food have the potential to drop onto fresh food which is ready to eat. Work surfaces, chopping boards, utensils, hands, and other kitchen equipment all have the potential to carry this harmful bacteria. When food isn’t stored correctly in the fridge or there isn’t specific equipment for each food group then problems can arise.

How to Avoid Cross Contamination

By practising good food hygiene measures, you will help eliminate the risk of cross-contamination. You need to ensure your workspaces are kept clean at all times – before, during, and after any food preparation. This goes for all cooking utensils, equipment, and other tools used in the kitchen.

Safe Food Storage

You also need to be aware of the procedures for storing food such as raw meat. Anything raw should be on the bottom shelf of the fridge so that no juices can drop onto any other foodstuffs. They should also be packaged well with no openings in the packaging which, again, can cause problems. Freezing meat is always best when it’s not going to be used immediately.

Safe Food Preparation

Chopping boards contain a lot of bacteria and it’s important to have a colour code in place for your boards. When you are dealing with raw foods you should only ever choose a glass or plastic chopping board – never glass. All utensils and other equipment should also be labelled clearly and used appropriately. Any damaged equipment should be replaced straight away.

Personal Hygiene in the Kitchen

Good personal hygiene is also a must when it comes to preventing cross-contamination. Washing hands, wearing the appropriate clothing, and having a robust cleaning routine will all help ensure the workspace remains safe.

Further Reading – Read our comprehensive guide looking at what cross contamination is and how it can be avoided.

2. Cleaning

Keeping up a strict cleaning routine is essential to any business dealing with food items. Failure to do so will result in harmful bacteria being spread among prepared foods, work surfaces, and other kitchen equipment. Germs aren’t visible to the naked eye which is why it’s so important to be aware of them at all times. It is very easy for products to become contaminated by lack of hygiene.

Good Hand Hygiene

First of all, when dealing with any kind of food you must keep your hands clean at all times. This includes before even thinking about handling and preparing any edible items. Your hands come in contact with many germs throughout the day and should be washed regularly. Your hands are going to be making contact with food people will eat and you don’t want to make them ill.

Hands should be washed following a good routine using soap or sanitiser, making sure all parts of the hands are cleaned. Paper towels should be used for drying as they are thrown away after use. If using a towel, this needs replacing regularly throughout the day.

Cleaning Schedules

A strict cleaning schedule should also be followed for the business as a whole. This includes the work surfaces, cooking areas, floors, walls, bins, and all equipment used. However, it also extends to food items themselves – make sure fruit and vegetables are cleaned well before use. Also, be sure to clean cupboards and fridges once a week to avoid bacteria from spreading.

Buy good quality cleaning equipment for your place of work and regularly replace mop heads, towels, cloths, and the like. Grease and dirt will accumulate quickly on surfaces so it’s very important to be on top of cleaning at all times. Food preparation areas should be kept well ventilated at all times too.

3. Cooking

Those in charge of cooking the food have a huge responsibility and this is arguably the most important of the 4 c’s of food safety.

It’s their job to ensure all food is cooked thoroughly and properly all the way through. Uncooked food can be dangerous when eaten and cause many gastrointestinal issues. It’s also important to use the appropriate cooking methods. Food that isn’t prepared by following the guidelines risks creating and spreading harmful bacterias.

Cooking Food Using Safe Methods

Taking shortcuts when it comes to cooking food can be very dangerous for those eating it. This includes trying to prepare food in the microwave if it isn’t suitable for this. You often end up with hot and cold spots when microwaving so extra care is required here anyway. It’s also important to defrost food correctly and for the right amount of time before cooking.

Safe Cooking Temperatures

When cooking food, it’s important to be reaching the correct temperature and maintain this throughout the process. It’s advisable to use a food probe or thermometer for this purpose. There are strict temperature guidelines to follow for reheating food as well.

Fish on a blue plate with temperature probe for safe cooking
Having a temperature probe at the ready before cooking foods helps ensure safe serving temperatures.

It’s also vital to follow the recipe and instructions when cooking food. This includes preparing it before cooking, the temperature to use, and how long it needs cooking for. The oven should also be preheated when this is stated as necessary within the method.

It’s a must to also be checking the food temperature before serving so you can be sure it’s cooked equally. Juices from meat should be clear, there shouldn’t be any raw parts, and sauces should be stirred well. Keep foods hot until ready to be served and store appropriately.


Knowing which foods need to be kept chilled during storage is also an important factor in observing the 4 c’s of food safety. Some food will produce huge amounts of bacteria if they are left out at room temperature. The chilling process stops this harmful bacteria from multiplying and stops it from becoming dangerous to eat.

Food items such as meat, dairy, salad, and any cooked dishes should all be kept in the fridge. Once you’ve cooked food, it should be cooled and put in the fridge one to two hours after being prepared. Businesses should also ensure they follow the best before and use by dates.

Fridge temperatures should be checked and monitored closely – they should be recorded when there is a known issue. You should ideally use a fridge thermometer regularly to check all is as it should be. Fridge temperatures should sit at 5 degrees or below.

It’s great to have a well-packed fridge with everything in its rightful place. However, there needs to be adequate space for air to effectively circulate. When it comes to thawing foods, you should always carry this out using the fridge. Trying to thaw food at room temperature will cause bacteria to grow.

The Importance Of Following The Four C’s

By closely following the protocols behind the Four C’s of food safety, you are ensuring the food you are handling is safe for consumption. These procedures are in place so that businesses can achieve high levels of cleanliness, organisation, and the correct preparation techniques.

The Food Safety Act (1990) must be adhered to by all businesses operating in England, Scotland, and Wales. To ensure businesses are doing this, it’s vital to regularly refresh knowledge by booking onto a food hygiene course – our guide will tell you how to get a food hygiene certificate. These courses can be completed online which is often much easier to access than face to face.

Our guide on kitchen health & safety will help you understand how to keep your staff safe during the operation of your commercial kitchen.

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