Provision and Preparation of Meals


This chapter was refreshed in June 2019 and should be re-read.


  1. Introduction
  2. Storing Food Correctly
  3. Cooking Food Safely
  4. Special Occasions
  5. What causes Food Poisoning?
  6. How you become ill

1. Introduction

Childhood First larger homes have a full time cook/s who provide most of the meals, however there will be occasions when care staff will prepare food, in particular at weekends. At Merrywood and Gables House staff prepare all meals for the young people.

It is essential that staff are overt about food hygiene and cautious with the language they use about food. Staff have the opportunity to act as role models demonstrating healthy eating habits and encouraging new foods to be tried. All care staff will receive regular Food Safety and Hygiene Training.

The Children/Young People who are placed with us may have had difficult experiences around food, many will have learnt to provide for themselves. This often results in a narrow diet that consists of mainly processed and/or instant food. Many will also find it difficult to trust staff to prepare food properly for them.

When preparing food for the Children/Young People and other staff it is important to know how to clean, store, prepare and cook food hygienically. Food hygiene is vital to prevent food poisoning.

Maintaining high levels of personal and kitchen hygiene are important and effective ways to stop bacteria from spreading.

  • Wash your hands and nails with hot, soapy water before handling food, between handling cooked and uncooked foods, and after going to the toilet;
  • Rinse your hands well and dry them on a clean hand towel, a disposable paper towel, or under a hand dryer. Wet hands transfer bacteria more effectively than dry hands;
  • Use different cloths for different jobs (e.g. washing up and cleaning surfaces). Wash them regularly on a hot cycle (90 degrees) or soak in a diluted solution of bleach;
  • Wipe down and disinfect surfaces and utensils regularly, using a detergent or dilute solution of bleach (always read the safety instructions first);
  • Wash up using hot, soapy water - use rubber gloves if necessary;
  • Do not handle food if you have stomach problems such as diarrhoea and vomiting, or if you're sneezing or coughing frequently;
  •  Cover up any cuts and sores with waterproof blue catering plasters;
  • If possible, remove rings, watches and bracelets before handling food as bacteria can hide under these.

Bacteria can spread from raw food, in particular meat, to food that has already been cooked or is eaten raw, such as salads.

  • Use separate colour coded chopping boards for preparing raw meat, raw fish, cooked meats, salads and fruits, vegetables and dairy products (refer to colour coded charts provided locally );
  • Never use a marinade that has already been used on raw meat for cooked food;
  • Always use a clean plate to serve food;
  • After using a knife or other utensil on raw meat, clean it thoroughly before using it on other foods.

2. Storing Food Correctly

It is very important that food is stored in the right place (e.g. fridge or freezer) and at the correct temperature.

  • Always check labels for guidance on where and how long to store food, in particular, fresh or frozen food;
  • Store fresh or frozen food in the fridge or freezer within two hours of purchase - sooner if the weather is hot;
  • Allow meal leftovers to cool to room temperature before storing them in the fridge, ideally within two hours of preparation. If necessary, divide leftovers into smaller portions to help food cool more quickly;
  • Use up leftovers within two days. Cooked rice should only be kept for one day and never re-heated;
  • Store raw food such as meat in airtight containers at the bottom of the fridge to prevent juices or blood from dripping onto other food;
  • Defrost frozen foods in the fridge. Place them on a plate or in a container as they defrost so they don't drip on or contaminate other foods;
  • Do not overfill the fridge as food may not cool properly;
  • Keep the fridge at less than 5°C and the freezer at less than -18°C, a thermometer should be used and temperature checks regularly recorded;
  • Do not store opened tins of food in the fridge, the contents should be transferred to a suitable airtight container instead.

3. Cooking Food Safely

If food is not cooked at a high enough temperature, bacteria can survive. The following advice will help you to cook safely.

  • Follow the recipe or packet instructions for cooking time and temperature, ensuring the oven is pre-heated properly;
  • Food should be piping hot (steaming) before serving;
  • Take special care that pork, sausages, burgers and poultry are cooked through and aren't pink in the middle. Using a clean skewer, pierce the meat. When cooked properly, the juices run clear. Lamb and beef joints and steaks can be cooked rare, but must be thoroughly sealed (browned) on the outside;
  • Don't cook foods too far in advance. Keep cooked foods covered and piping hot until served;
  • When microwaving, stir food well from time to time to ensure even cooking;
  • Only reheat food once and serve piping hot;
  • Use a food thermometer to check that food is cooked to the right temperature;
  • Eggs contain harmful bacteria which can be dangerous to pregnant women, older people and babies. Do not serve eggs with runny yolks, or egg-containing foods that will not be cooked, for example homemade mayonnaise.

Guidelines within the Food Safety Handbook (35th Edition May 2018) should be followed at all times.

4. Special Occasions

Even if you are usually careful about food hygiene, it is very easy to slip up on special occasions such as barbecues, picnics or parties. Here are some tips on how to keep food safe.

  • Consider fridge space. Do not buy food too far in advance and transfer drinks bottles/cans to ice-buckets;
  • Do not leave party foods that normally need to be refrigerated at room temperature for hours. Serve individual portions and keep leftovers stored in the fridge;
  • Keep all serving bowls covered until the last minute;
  • When preparing a picnic, take the food out of the fridge at the last minute and use a cool bag to keep it chilled and covered until you eat. Consider taking antiseptic hand wipes/gel. Wash fruit and salad items before you leave;
  • For barbecues, only start cooking when the charcoals are glowing red with a layer of grey ash and move the food around the grill. Always check that food is cooked through. Food which is charred on the outside might not be cooked on the inside. Serve food straight away or keep it in a hot oven until you are ready to eat;
  • Consider pre-cooking poultry or sausages in the oven, then finish off on the barbecue;
  • Prevent cross-contamination by using separate cool bags, plates and utensils for raw and cooked meat.

5. What causes Food Poisoning?

Food poisoning is usually caused by micro-organisms, including bacteria, viruses and moulds. The spread of these can be prevented by practicing good food hygiene.

The most serious types of food poisoning are caused by bacteria. Bacteria multiply best in a moist environment between 5°C and 63°C. Just a single bacterium on an item of food, left out of the fridge overnight, could generate many millions of bacteria by the morning, enough to make you ill if eaten. Storing food below 5°C prevents bacteria from multiplying, and cooking food at temperatures over 75°C will kill off any existing bacteria.

Bacteria that cause food poisoning are found in many foods, including:

  • Meat and meat products - in particular poultry, minced meat and patés;
  • Seafood;
  • Eggs and raw egg products, in particular mayonnaise;
  • Unpasteurised milk (or milk contaminated after pasteurisation);
  • Soft and mould-ripened cheeses;
  • Cooked foods - in particular fried rice and pasta (especially if these haven't been cooled and stored properly - see Storing Food Correctly);
  • Unwashed fruit and vegetables.

6. How you become ill

Food poisoning from bacteria can occur in different ways.

  • Some bacteria release poisons called toxins, which may give you symptoms of food poisoning soon after the food is eaten;
  • Other bacteria multiply in the body first before causing symptoms. The delay between eating the contaminated food and developing symptoms is known as the incubation period, this can be a few hours or up to a few days.