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Food Info - Operate

Food storage and temperature control


Temperature control

You need to ensure that potentially hazardous food is at 5°C or colder or at 60°C or hotter when it is received, displayed, transported or stored.

Potentially hazardous foods are foods that require certain time and temperature control to stop bacteria from growing and prevent food poisoning. Examples of potentially hazardous foods include:

  • eggs
  • cooked rice and pasta
  • raw and cooked meat
  • seafood

Find more examples of potentially hazardous foods.

It is good practice to keep records of the temperature checks you do during your operations. You can use these templates to help you:

Download the safe food storage temperatures  poster to display at your food business.



If your business prepares, handles, transports or sells potentially hazardous food you need to have thermometers accurate to +/-1°C to help you monitor temperatures. Find out more about thermometers and using them with potentially hazardous food.


Four-hour/two-hour guide

Potentially hazardous food should be stored, displayed and transported under temperature control, that is, below 5°C or above 60°C. Some food businesses, however, may choose to adopt an alternative method of temperature control. One of the alternative methods of temperature control is referred to as the four-hour/two-hour guide. So as to prevent the growth of bacteria that may cause food poisoning the food business must be sure to apply this alternative method properly.


Four-hour/two-hour guide

The four-hour/two-hour guide relates to how long potentially hazardous food may remain outside of temperature control. The timeframes below relate to the total time a particular food is outside of temperature control including time during preparation, storage, display and transport.


Under two hours

Food must be used or placed back under temperature control (5°C or less or 60°C or greater).


Two to four hours

Food must be used immediately - it cannot be re-refrigerated.


Four plus hours

Food must be discarded - it may have harmful levels of bacteria.


Example 1

A food business wishes to display chicken and ham sandwiches in a non-refrigerated display cabinet during the busy lunch time period. In order to do this they wish to apply the four-hour/two-hour guide.


Therefore the following is necessary:

  • The food business must ensure that the chicken and ham has not undergone any prior temperature abuse. The chicken and ham must have come from a reputable supplier who is able to provide written advice that the products have been kept below 5°C during manufacture and transport to the food premises.
  • To be safe the food business should also carry out temperature checks of the food upon arrival at the food business and record these temperatures.
  • Upon arrival the products should be immediately placed under refrigeration or any time they are not under refrigeration should be documented.
  • The time taken to make up the sandwiches must be recorded as this is time that the products are outside of temperature control.
  • The sandwiches can then be displayed in the non-refrigerated cabinet for the remaining period of time according to the four-hour/two-hour guide.
  • For example, if the chicken and ham had been kept under temperature control up until delivery at the premises, then left for thirty minutes prior to being placed in the cool room, then removed from the cool room to make up sandwiches that took thirty minutes. The chicken and ham have been outside of temperature control for a total of one hour. There is only a further one hour before the sandwiches can be either used or refrigerated, a further one to three hours before they must be used or a further three hours before they are to be discarded.
  • In the event that an environmental health officer arrives at the premises to carry out an inspection the food business must be able to present the written documentation of how long the sandwiches have been outside of temperature control and be aware of what action must be taken once the time limits have expired.


Example 2

Using the four-hour/two-hour guide for food that has been previously cooked and cooled. The four-hour/two-hour guide may be used where food has been cooked and cooled in accordance with the Food Safety Standards. For example after cooking rice it is then allowed to cool from  60°C to 21°C within two hours and then from 21°C to 5°C within a further four hours. This food may then be held outside of temperature control in accordance with the four-hour/two-hour guide. 

To be safe it is best to always store and display food under temperature control and if in doubt do not sell food you suspect may be contaminated or that may have been subjected to temperature abuse.


Cooling and reheating potentially hazardous food

Cooling potentially hazardous food

If you cook potentially hazardous food that you intend to cool and use later, you need to cool the food as quickly as possible. 

Food must be cooled from:

  • 60°C to 21°C within two hours
  • from 21°C to 5°C within a further maximum period of four hours.

If you want to cool food over a longer time period you must be able to show council that you have a safe alternative system in place.

If you don’t know how fast your food is cooling, use a probe thermometer to measure the warmest part of the food – usually in the centre and use the cooling and reheating logsheet  to record results.

To chill food quickly, divide it into smaller portions in shallow containers. Take care not to contaminate the food as you do it. Containers placed into an ice bath is also a good way to cool food quickly.


Reheating previously cooked potentially hazardous food

If you reheat previously cooked and cooled potentially hazardous food, you must reheat it rapidly. You should reheat food to 60°C within a maximum of two hours.

This requirement applies only to potentially hazardous food that you want to hold hot, for example, on your stove or in a food display unit. It does not apply to food you reheat and then immediately serve to customers for consumption, for example, in a restaurant or a take away shop.


Buffet style self-service food

It is essential that openly displayed or unpackaged food at self-serve buffets is safe to eat. Business operators can make sure food is safe through proper planning, observing food safety controls and constant supervision.


The risks

Open service food is susceptible to contamination and spoilage for a number of reasons. They include:

  • patrons accessing food in a self-serve fashion, which means the business loses control of verifiable ‘kitchen to table’ food safety
  • the vulnerability of the food to accidental or deliberate tampering or malpractice
  • inadequately covered or protected food being contaminated by air, insects or physical matter
  • indirect contamination of uncovered or unpackaged food through patrons coughing, sneezing or even talking, as physical barriers (sneeze guards) are not always effective
  • the difficulty of maintaining open service food at required temperatures of 5°C or below / 60°C or above.


Recommended control measures

  • Adopt an accredited Hazard Analysis Critical Control Point (HACCP) Food Safety Plan and have the system independently audited.
  • Buy all foods from approved HACCP suppliers.
  • Where possible, use non-potentially hazardous foods.
  • Prepare meals using the correct food handling procedures, hygiene practices and contamination controls. Rapid chill and reheat rules should be followed.
  • Make sure all workers have completed food safety training and have a professional approach to their work. Make sure the premises are clean and maintained in accordance with the National Food Safety Standards.
  • Stack plates, cups and glasses so they are protected from contamination and wrap or store cutlery vertically with the handle up.
  • Make sure food display equipment, including the buffet unit, containers and implements, are appropriately designed to best protect the food.
  • Keep hot food at 60°C or above and cold food at 5°C or below.
  • It is advisable not to display a food dish on the buffet for more than one hour.
  • Limit the quantity of each food item displayed.
  • Never top-up displayed food dishes but replace them with fresh food.
  • Never reuse previously displayed food except hermetically sealed and safe items.
  • Provide separate serving utensils for each displayed food item.
  • Advise patrons of required food safety procedures with clearly visible, easy-to-understand signage. Use appropriate symbols whenever possible.
  • Recommend that when children are serving themselves food, they be accompanied by an adult.
  • Recommend patrons use a clean plate each time they return to the buffet.
  • Closely supervise the food display. Video surveillance is recommended.
  • Advise patrons when they are doing the wrong thing.

Find out more about buffet style self-service food