Food is safe. This is ensured by a dense EU-wide control network from field to fork, which covers both producers and retailers as well as the food service industry. However, consumers can also make their own contribution to ensuring that food remains safe.
From the moment of purchase, the responsibility for food safety lies with the consumer. Errors during transport and storage, as well as mistakes during preparation, can lead to food that is actually safe becoming inedible or, in the worst case, even harmful to health. The majority of illnesses caused by food originate at home.
Following general kitchen hygiene rules at home plays an important role in preventing foodborne infections. Following these tips will keep your food safe!
As part of the #EUChooseSafeFood (Safe Food for the EU) awareness campaign, we provide information on important food safety topics in cooperation with the European Food Safety Authority EFSA . All videos of the campaign can also be found here.
Maintain cold chain
When shopping, remove perishable foods, e.g. raw meat, meat products, raw fish or dairy products and frozen foods from the refrigerated section at the end. Use a cooler or cooler bag to transport these foods, transport them home as soon as possible, and refrigerate them immediately at home. When cooking, do not remove perishable foods from the refrigerator until immediately before processing. Do not refreeze thawed and defrosted foods from the freezer.
Correctly adjust and put away refrigerator
Set the refrigerator temperature between 1 and 5 °C.
The refrigerator has different temperatures in different compartments. It is warmest in the fruit and vegetable drawer and in the door. Store particularly sensitive foods such as meat and fish above the vegetable drawer, it is coldest there. Optimally, different foods are stored in the refrigerator in separate, liquid-tight and clean containers (ideal: sealable cans).
Place perishable foods that must be consumed first in front of those that have a longer shelf life.
Open refrigerator doors only briefly. Even if something is only taken out of the refrigerator for a short time (such as milk for coffee), close the refrigerator door in the meantime.
Fresh fruits and vegetables that are not sensitive to cold (such as berries and sprouts) should be stored in the refrigerator compartment designated for these foods. Cut melons should be kept refrigerated throughout or consumed within 2 hours.
Cleanliness is important in freezers, compartments or chests, so store food unopened, liquid-tight and not dirty/greasy/sticky on the outside. The freezer has an advantage over the refrigerator in that pathogens cannot multiply at subzero temperatures. However, many pathogens do not die at sub-zero temperatures and can multiply again after thawing.
Setting the storage temperature
Set storage temperature to at least -18 °C, better still below. Then almost all foods in appropriate packaging should keep for about 10 months.
Proper preparation is important: cleaning, chopping, etc. can be done much better before freezing than after thawing.
For household freezing, use only freezer-safe materials. These are freezer bags, plastic films or stackable plastic boxes with a tight-fitting lid. Unsuitable materials include wrapping paper, parchment paper, plastic carrier bags or garbage bags, and yogurt or margarine tubs and jars, which can break or splinter.
Unsuitable or too thin materials can allow oxygen or odors to permeate. After removing as much air as possible, make sure the seal is as tight as possible. Leakage or too much air will cause freezer burn, drying out the surface. This is not dangerous, but the enjoyment value suffers. Vacuuming and sealing is ideal, alternatively the freezer bag can be sealed with a special sealing clip or a tight knot. A paper clip is not suitable. Only use cans if they will keep tightly sealed even when frozen and can be filled as full as possible.
The freezing process should take place as quickly as possible to avoid loss of quality. Allow prepared foods to cool before freezing to prevent condensation from forming in the freezer. This would freeze and form large ice crystals on the food. Before freezing, set the freezer to full cooling capacity a few hours beforehand (a largely full one better the day before). Do not freeze packages that are too large and fill bags as flat as possible, do not stack them when freezing.
Do not refreeze defrosted food
Many germs do not die at sub-zero temperatures and can multiply again after thawing. Particularly sensitive in this regard are perishable foods such as raw meat and fish or raw dairy products. Raw meat or fish that has already been thawed must be completely cooked through (at least 70 °C for 2 minutes in the core of the food) before being frozen again.
If something was only thawed or the thawing phase was short, refreezing is not a problem from a microbiological point of view, but the loss of quality can be drastic.
Freezer burn is bad for quality
When food is frozen, the water contained in the cells freezes into ice crystals and destroys the cell walls. When thawed, these ice crystals also thaw and the food loses water: this results in a loss of weight and the prepared food is drier than freshly prepared food.
During refreezing, larger ice crystals form from the thawed water, destroying even more cells. As a result, the food shows dry spots, the so-called freezer burn.
Products that are offered frozen in stores are usually flash frozen. These foods are cooled to the desired storage temperature of - 18 °C or lower within a very short time. Due to this rapid process, the cell walls remain intact (only very small ice crystals are formed) and food retains its consistency and other properties such as flavors, etc.
Allow frozen foods and dishes to thaw in liquid-tight and clean containers in the refrigerator. This prevents the transfer of germs via dripping meat juices to foods that are not heated before consumption (e.g. fruit, salads). Carefully remove defrost water and clean used kitchen utensils - knives, cutting boards and also hands - well with washing-up liquid or soap and hot water.
Separate raw from cooked food
Always separate raw meat, poultry, eggs, fish and seafood and any liquids leaking from them from food that is ready to eat, e.g. salad, vegetables or fully cooked food. Use separate kitchen utensils (e.g. cooking spoon, cutting board, knife) and work surfaces for preparation. Store raw and cooked food separately, sealed in liquid-tight and clean containers in the refrigerator.
Store fruit and vegetables separately
Store different fruits and vegetables separately from each other. Apples, avocados, pears, cucumbers and tomatoes accelerate the ripening process of other fruits and vegetables. Unwrap fruits and vegetables from plastic wrap, otherwise condensation can form, which stimulates germination and can lead to mold growth. Also store mold cheese separately from other cheeses, because next to it other cheese begins to mold faster.
Clean kitchen utensils, work surfaces, dishes and containers
Wash containers and dishes hot, preferably in the dishwasher. For persons at risk (elderly, immunocompromised, pregnant), avoid eco and low temperature programs. Clean all kitchen utensils, work surfaces and equipment that have been in contact with raw food (especially raw poultry or raw eggs) with detergent and hot water. It is best to use disposable paper (kitchen roll) for cleaning. Wash or change hand, dish and cleaning cloths as well as sponges regularly at at least 60 °C. Empty and clean waste containers regularly.
Check shelf life
Best before date (BBD)
Check the best-before date (BBD) of food products at least once a week. With the best-before date, the producer guarantees that the product will retain its full fitness for consumption at least until that date if it is stored properly. However, food producers are very careful in doing so, as the law stipulates that they must guarantee the greatest possible safety for consumers.
In general, exceeding the best-before date does not mean that a food is no longer fit for consumption. It means that a food product can usually be kept longer than the best-before date indicates. How much longer depends on the product and also on how the product has been stored up to that point.
Check food for abnormalities before processing or consumption. Use several senses: smelling, examining, touching and also tasting (for example, milk before pouring it into coffee).
Very perishable goods (e.g. fish and raw meat) have a use-by date ("to be consumed by"). Food that has passed this date is no longer considered safe. It should not be eaten under any circumstances, but disposed of immediately.
Do not eat spoiled food anymore
Do not eat moldy food anymore. Simply removing the visible mold is not sufficient. This is because possible mold toxins (mycotoxins) do not necessarily remain in the visible mold (fungal body), but can spread throughout the food. Large portions of a fungus are often invisible. Cooking or baking is also not an alternative because of the resistance of the toxins. Cutting away is recommended, if at all, only for foods such as bacon and hard cheeses where the mold can only grow on the surface (at least 1-2 cm).
Signs of spoilage
If even one characteristic applies, no longer consume the food:
- Odor and taste changes (rancid, moldy, musty).
- Visible mold growth (throw away the entire food)
- noticeable consistency (moist, lumpy)
- greasy surface
- discoloration, dried spots
- Insect infestation ("threads" indicate moths)
- rusting of containers/lids
- bloating of containers/canned goods (do not open and throw away under any circumstances)
- Freezer burn
Tips for avoiding food waste
- Shop more frugally. Don't go shopping hungry. Write a list before each purchase.
- Don't immediately dispose of expired food, but use several senses to check that it is fit for consumption.
- Simply brush buns and pastries from the day before with cold water and place in the oven for about 10 minutes.
- Cut up too much bread and freeze. Portion by portion, it can be baked in the toaster oven or in the oven.
- Freeze butter in portions.
- Hard cheese that is dried but still smells good can be grated and used in a casserole. However, heat well when doing so.
- Water test for eggs: To check the freshness of a raw egg, place it in cold water. As the egg ages, its density decreases. If the egg sinks and stays flat on the bottom, it is fresh. Slightly older eggs float in the water and should be processed as soon as possible and heated thoroughly. Be careful if the egg is already floating on top or if the blunt tip is sticking out of the water. Then it should no longer be eaten.
Heat food sufficiently
Food, especially meat, poultry, fish, eggs or seafood, should be well boiled or cooked through. Meat should turn from red to gray or brown inside and when cut, the escaping meat juice should not be pink. If in doubt, check temperature with a meat thermometer. Heat fish until the flesh has lost its glassy appearance and can be easily cut with a fork.
Brief blanching of fruits and vegetables (immersion in boiling water for 1 minute) can reduce germs. Particularly sensitive persons should consume sprouts and frozen berries only well heated through.
Gilding instead of charring
When baking, frying and deep-frying potato and cereal products, use the lowest possible temperatures and short cooking times. The more browned a food is, the more harmful acrylamide it contains. Therefore, when baking: with convection max. 180 °C, without convection 200 °C; when frying: only golden brown, not golden brown; when deep-frying: 160-175 °C; when toasting: only briefly & lightly brown.
Grill food properly
During grilling, substances that are harmful to health can be produced by the combustion process. In addition, aluminum from grill cups can migrate into the food during grilling due to acidic or salty marinades. There are therefore a few basic rules to follow when grilling:
Grilled food needs heat, but no flames or smoke.
If flames or smoke get onto the grilled food during grilling, harmful substances known as polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) are produced. PAHs is a collective name for well over 100 specific chemical substances. One of the best known is benzo(a)pyrene, which is carcinogenic and is produced, among other things, during barbecuing when fat from the food drips onto the hot embers.
These substances are solid, mostly colorless, chemically stable but light-sensitive compounds that are readily soluble in fat but poorly soluble in water. Many PAHs are carcinogenic or mutagenic. They are formed by incomplete combustion processes of organic materials (wood, coal, gasoline, oil, tobacco, waste), but also during grilling, frying, smoking or drying of food. They always occur as a mixture and spread with smoke, flue dust and soot particles.
Barbecue cups are often used when grilling to prevent marinades from dripping into the embers. However, aluminum can transfer from aluminum utensils to the food on contact with acid (e.g. lemon) or salt. This process is exacerbated by exposure to heat, such as during grilling. If aluminum cups are used for grilling, do not salt or season the food with lemon on the plate until after grilling. This should also be observed when marinating: Do not store grilled foods seasoned with salt and lemon in aluminum containers. The same applies to the preparation of fish on the grill or in the oven: do not cook it marinated with salt/lemon in aluminum foil.
As a matter of principle, do not use objects and cookware made of uncoated aluminum for the preparation and storage of acidic or salty foods (e.g. lemon, sauerkraut, tomatoes, acidic fruit, barbecue marinades) because of the expected release of aluminum. This also applies to aluminum foil used to cover sour or salty foods (fruit cakes).
Beer cans are not suitable for grilling
There are some cooking recipes that describe grilling a chicken on a beer can. This type of preparation is particularly advertised for the simplicity of the procedure and the transfer of beer flavors into the chicken meat, but this type of preparation is strongly discouraged because harmful substances may be produced.
The actual hazard potential is difficult to assess at present. What is certain is that the printing inks and varnishes on the outside of the can do not have to be suitable for foodstuffs, and the inside coating of the can has also only been tested and approved for its intended use as beverage packaging. At the high preparation temperatures, substances that have not yet been investigated and are even harmful to health can form. Through this use of beer cans for other purposes, not only the desired aromas but possibly also harmful substances are transferred directly into the grilled meat.
Those who do not want to do without this form of preparation should use so-called "chicken grillers". These have the same function, are made of suitable material (e.g. stainless steel) and are also reusable.
Further technical information from the German Federal Institute for Risk Assessment
Tips for proper grilling:
- If aluminum cups are used, do not season grilled food with salt and lemon until after grilling so that aluminum does not transfer from the container to the food.
- Use oil sparingly or carefully dab off the oil-containing marinade so that fat from the grilled food does not drip onto the hot embers and burn. This prevents the formation of PAHs.
- Do not eat burned areas, but cut away.
- Avoid grilling cured meat and cured sausages: the nitrate used for curing is converted in the heat to nitrosamines, which are hazardous to health.
The basis of a balanced diet is plant-based foods. Half of the food we eat every day should come from fruits and vegetables, a quarter from starchy foods such as cereals and potatoes, and the last quarter from protein-rich foods such as legumes, low-fat meat, fish, milk and dairy products. High-fat, high-sugar and high-salt foods should only be eaten in small amounts. With the AGES Food Magnifier, you can easily compare the sugar, salt, fat and energy content of different foods online.
Food supplements cannot replace a varied diet. More information on dietary supplements can be found here.
For more information on a healthy and varied diet, see "Theright diet for every age", "The Austrian food pyramid" and "WHO sugar recommendations".
Last updated: 25.10.2022