Cooking your food
How to cook your food to prevent food poisoning.
Cooking food at the right temperature and for the correct length of time will ensure that any harmful bacteria are killed. Always check the advice on food packaging and follow the cooking instructions provided.
Before you serve pork, poultry and minced meat, make sure it is steaming hot and cooked all the way through. When you cut into the thickest part of the meat, check that none of the meat is pink and that any juices run clear. In a whole bird this is the area between the leg and the breast.
Follow this advice when cooking:
- minced meat products such as kebabs, sausages and burgers
When roasting a whole bird such as chicken or turkey, we advise that birds are cooked unstuffed, with any stuffing cooked in a separate tray or dish. This is because stuffed birds will take longer to cook and may not cook thoroughly.
Avian Influenza (bird flu)
Avian Influenza (also known as bird flu) poses a very low food safety risk for consumers. Properly cooked poultry meat and poultry meat products are safe to eat. This means that our advice on consumption of poultry meat and poultry meat products, including eggs, does not change during outbreaks of Avian Influenza.
The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) has further advice on Avian Influenza.
Most frozen vegetables, including sweetcorn, will need to be cooked before you can eat them.
If you intend to use frozen sweetcorn or other vegetables as part of a cold salad, check the instructions on the packaging first. If the advice is that the sweetcorn or other frozen vegetables should be cooked, you must ensure that this is done before they are eaten cold.
After cooking, the food should be:
- cooled down as quickly as possible (ideally within two hours)
- stored in a fridge
- eaten within two days
- frozen to eat later, if you think you won’t be able to eat it within two days
For more information on safely cooling and storing foods, including freezing advice, read our guidance on chilling food.
When food is cooked in an oven, it is through a combination of three different heat transfer methods.
Radiant or direct heat
This is where the flames at the back of a gas oven or the element in an electric oven cook the food.
This is where the heat travels through the shelf, into the baking tray/dish and then on into the food.
This is where the air within the oven is heated and travels over and through the food. It is particularly important in a fan assisted oven and is the reason these cook foods faster.
Alternative cooking methods
Meals can also be prepared using appliances such as a microwave, crock pot or air fryer. Depending on the cooking method and appliance efficiency, foods will require different times and temperatures to be properly cooked. Also, while different foods can be cooked together, they may require different times and temperatures.
Please refer to the instructions for your appliance for cooking advice on specific foods. In some appliances, you should leave some space around the food so that it can cook properly e.g. chicken legs in an air fryer.
When cooking pork, poultry or minced meat (including burgers and sausages), make sure they are steaming hot and cooked all the way through before serving. Cut through the thickest part of the meat to ensure none of the meat is pink and the juices run clear.
If you are heating food in a microwave, it’s important to stir the food halfway through heating and to make sure that it is steaming hot before eating. Microwaves can heat in ‘pockets’ so stirring ensures that there are no pockets of cold food in your meal.
Why you shouldn't serve burgers rare or pink
Whole cuts of meat, such as steaks and joints, only ever have bacteria on the outside surface of the meat.
When meat is minced to make a burger, any harmful bacteria from the surface of the meat can get spread throughout the burger. As a result, rare and undercooked burgers can have harmful bacteria on the inside and may cause food poisoning if not fully cooked.
How time and temperature kill bacteria
During cooking, heat energy transfers into and breaks down proteins in the food. The meat changes colour from pink to brown or to white. Its texture changes too. Cooking also causes the proteins in bacteria to break up so they no longer function and the bacteria die. This is why cooking removes the risk from harmful bacteria that are in some food.
Bacteria usually grow in the ‘Danger Zone’ between 8°C and 60°C. Below 8°C, growth is stopped or significantly slowed down. Above 60°C the bacteria start to die. Time and temperature are both important because proteins need to be heated up for a long enough time for them all to be broken down.
Standard advice is to cook food until it has reached 70°C and stayed at that temperature for 2 minutes.
The other time and temperature combinations are:
- 60°C for 45 minutes
- 65°C for 10 minutes
- 70°C for 2 minutes
- 75°C for 30 seconds
- 80°C for 6 seconds
Published: 18 December 2017
Last updated: 1 February 2023