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Safe Food Handling

Make sure you think about the following aspects, put in place procedures and record what you do.

Training Skills

You and your staff must have some form of food hygiene training.

Having poorly trained staff can, at worst, cost your business money, lead to loss of reputation or loss of your entire business, or even cause someone to die.

Help with training

It is not necessary to attend a formalised training course. You can train your own staff if you feel confident to do this.

Have a look at our training section for available options.

Refresher training

There is no legal requirement to do refresher training after a specified period of time. You should view training as an on-going process rather than a one off. Refresher training would be necessary if:

  • you feel your staff could do with updating their training, or
  • if your inspector has told you it is required following an inspection


You must make sure that any water you use for food preparation, as an ingredient, or during processing and cleaning is safe. 

The water you use must meet the basic legal requirements for drinking water set out in legislation.

Your water may be from a:

  • public water supply
  • group scheme
  • private supply, e.g. a private well

Water is tested by the local authority and you can check the results on the local authority website or at Uisce Éireann. You can use these results to confirm that the water, as it entered your premises, was safe.

You can read more about your responsibilities for ensuring the water you use is safe in our leaflet on Potable Water Quality for Food Businesses


Having a proper cleaning schedule in place is essential.

Follow the 6 Stages of effective cleaning

  1. Preclean – get rid of loose material and scraps
  2. Clean with detergent*
  3. Rinse
  4. Clean with disinfectant* following manufacturer's instructions
  5. Rinse
  6. Allow surfaces and equipment to air dry

*Detergent and disinfectant often come combined as a sanitiser, so follow the manufacturer's instructions.

Cleaning your equipment

Mincers - Clean mincers every 3 hours when used at room temperature. Store the mincer head below 5˚ C when not in use.

Meat slicers – clean and disinfect them at least daily as follows:

  • All detachable parts, leave to air dry
  • The slicer blades, dry with paper towel
  • Body of the slicer, leave to air dry

Butcher’s block – clean it daily and as often as necessary as follows:

  • Remove all loose material
  • Scrub top and sides with a clean block brush
  • The block may be covered with dry salt before scrubbing

Block brush – clean it after each use as follows:

  • Remove loose material from the brush
  • Sanitise the brush
  • Leave to dry, prongs down, in a designated plastic container

Cleaning Schedule and Records

A cleaning schedule is a useful tool to help you clean effectively. In the schedule you write down how you clean your business and use the cleaning records to record when this is done.
The schedule details all the equipment, fixtures and fittings that need to be cleaned. You should review it regularly to check if anything needs to be added, e.g. new equipment.
You should keep this in a conspicuous place so staff can easily see what needs to be cleaned and how often.

Sample cleaning schedule and record sheet.

Specialised and Complex Equipment

Specialised and complex equipment requires additional training to ensure the equipment is used and cleaned correctly. This type of equipment includes:

  • vacuum packers
  • modified atmosphere packing (MAP)
  • injectors
  • tumblers
  • blade/needle tenderisers

This equipment can be difficult to clean and can easily become a source of contamination. You should use separate equipment for raw food and for food that is ready-to-eat, to avoid issues with cross-contamination.

Personal Hygiene

You and your staff can be a source of contamination of food in your business. Pay particular attention to these areas:

  • Clothing
  • Hand washing
  • Illness


  • Keep protective clothing clean
  • Do not wear when using the toilet, putting out bins, or outside your food premises
  • Keep separate from personal clothing

Hand Washing

This is a very basic but vital element of proper hygiene.

You must have proper hand washing facilities separate from the food sink.

Hands must be washed often, but especially:

  • before starting work
  • before using disposable gloves
  • before handling unpackaged cooked or ready to eat food
  • after using the toilet
  • after handling waste
  • after using a tissue, blowing or touching nose (your nose and skin are a source of bacteria)
  • after handling or preparing raw food
  • after cleaning duties
  • after smoking
  • after eating
  • after handling money

Remember! Gloves are not a substitute for hand washing. If you use disposable gloves you must still change them regularly (particularly after the scenarios listed above) and wash your hands between glove changes


Staff who are ill must inform the manager. Make sure they know this.

Staff who are ill with the following must not work with food:

  • Flu, vomiting and/or diarrhoea
  • Boils, infected wounds
  • Infectious skin disorders on face, hands or forearms and/or infections of the mouth, throat, nose, ears or eye

Any member of staff who has diarrhoea and/or vomiting must by law report it to their manager immediately. If staff are not ‘fit to work’, move them out of food handling areas or send them home. Throw away any unwrapped foods they have handled.

Staff who have had diarrhoea and/or vomiting should not return to work until they have had no symptoms for 48 hours. Even if the diarrhoea and vomiting has stopped, someone can still carry food poisoning bacteria for 48 hours afterwards.

The law puts the responsibility on employers to satisfy themselves that no food handlers pose a risk to food safety.

You should have a written policy for dealing with staff who are sick.

You can use the Fitness to Work Assessment Form to determine if staff are fit to work and keep these for your records.

Temperature Control

Harmful bacteria grow and multiply very quickly at temperatures between 5˚ C and 63˚ C.

Check temperature of fridges, cold rooms and freezers regularly and record. Keep these records to show your inspector.

Meat must be kept chilled at less than 5˚ C. It is recommended that:

  • poultry is kept at 4˚ C or less
  • offal is kept at 3˚ C or less
  • all other meats are kept at 5˚ C or less

Frozen foods must be kept at -18˚ C or less.

Waste Disposal and Pest Control

You must have procedures to store and dispose of waste and to protect your premises and food from pests. Make sure:

  • you have a designated waste area protected from pests
  • your waste area can be easily cleaned and disinfected
  • that in food areas, you use bins with lids, ideally those which are opened by a foot pedal
  • bins are not a source of contamination
  • to remove waste at least daily from food areas

Waste of animal origin (ABP – animal by-products)

ABP must be sent to approved Category 3 plants for incineration. There are exceptions where ABP waste is under 20 kg per week or where waste material is supplied to customers as pet food.

Store ABP:

  • separate from other waste
  • in a leak-proof container clearly marked ‘goods not for human consumption’
  • in a designated area of the cold room until collected

Each consignment of ABP waste must be accompanied by a commercial document. Copies must be kept for 2 years after dispatch from your premises.

You must use an approved ABP carrier for removal of this waste. A list of approved carriers is available from the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine (DAFM).

If you wish to become a registered ABP carrier you can apply through DAFM.

Pest Control

You must have a pest control system developed by a competent person.

You must take immediate action where evidence of infestation is found. Eliminate the infestation and destroy any food that may have been contaminated.

Pest inspections should be carried out at least monthly or more frequently if the risk of pest intrusion is higher, e.g. harvest time in rural areas.

Hygiene checklist

Doing a regular check on your hygiene procedures will help you make sure you and your staff are producing safe food.

Download a Hygiene checklist.