Food safety

The 4 C's of food safety

Cleaning refers to the act of removing potential food safety hazards from raw materials, equipment, utensils, and ...

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  • Cleaning refers to the act of removing potential food safety hazards from raw materials, equipment, utensils, and contact surfaces.
  • Cooking is the process of preparing raw materials and applying heat to produce new flavours and textures and to eliminate present hazards.
  • Avoiding Cross-contamination means applying food safety practices that prevent the transport of hazards from one point to another.
  • Chilling helps slow down the growth of pathogenic hazards and extends the shelf life of food products.  

While there are numerous food safety practices being taught in the food industry, these practices revolve around a few basic principles. In what is known as the 4 C's of food safety, the foundation of more technical food safety practices can be covered. The components of this concept can significantly protect every customer from foodborne illnesses and other risks of food hazards. If done correctly, these methods can effectively achieve compliance with most food safety laws and regulations.

Food safety practices can significantly help reduce hospitalizations due to foodborne illnesses. This in turn can help reduce losses in a nation's economic gains. Productivity becomes uninterrupted if proper implementation and monitoring of these food safety practices are in place. While different food businesses can have applicable unique food safety practices, the 4 C's of food safety which will be discussed in this article can be applied to any type of food company. They can even be applied at home.


what are the 4 cs of food safety


What are the 4 C's of food safety?

In the food industry, food safety practices can be implemented throughout the whole food supply chain. These practices can become very technical especially when they are used for a critical control point. Whether basic or technical, food safety practices are used to control food safety hazards that can lead to damaging events. These hazards can either be biological, physical, or chemical and can cause significant problems for any food business.

Most food safety practices are based on four basic tasks. The 4 C's of food safety are as follows:

  • Cleaning
  • Cooking
  • Cross-contamination
  • Chilling

These are based on the main principles of how to address different kinds of food safety hazards and several other food safety practices can be derived from them. They are always part of the different prerequisite programmes for higher food safety management systems. If these four tasks are consistently implemented and monitored, food safety can be easily achieved and business profits, as well as customer confidence, can effortlessly increase. 


cleaning is one of the 4 cs of food safety



This food safety operation can be applied in many different ways. It can be applied with raw ingredients, food contact surfaces, facilities, equipment, and employee hygiene. 

Food contact surfaces. Cleaning may mean keeping food contact surfaces spotless and sanitised at all times. These food preparation surfaces can harbor microbiological hazards easily and can become a source of foodborne illnesses. Especially in a kitchen with very limited space, both raw ingredients and cooked food can pass through a single preparation area. In such cases, constant cleaning and sanitation are a must. 

Facilities. In this aspect, cleaning can be applied to the floors, walls, windows, and doors of all the rooms in your food establishment. This includes using the proper cleaning solutions and materials for thorough cleaning. Use a cleaning schedule to ensure that proper timing and materials are being consistently applied. Although the primary design of the facility and kitchen environment must be that they won't harbor physical hazards such as dust, constant cleaning must be done. Dust can easily contaminate food without being detected and can cause spoilage, especially for high-risk ingredients and products. 

Raw materials. While raw materials will still be processed, cleaning them is also an essential task. Cleaning in this context can mean removing physical hazards such as excess soil on root crops, inspecting for debris, or isolating materials that are not wholesome. This reduces the chances of causing spoilage on the products and the risk of spreading any food safety hazards.

Equipment. Being frequently used, any piece of kitchen equipment needs to be cleaned before and after use. Sanitizing is also a must, especially before operation. This step ensures that crevices and corners on the kitchen equipment would not have any leftover food material to attract harmful bacteria. Wash equipment and cooking utensils with soapy water and rinse well with warm water.

Employee personal hygiene. In this case, cleaning can be done by applying excellent food hygiene practices including handwashing before and after handling foods. Proper handwashing must be communicated to all food employees. It must be done correctly to be effective. Steps such as doing it for at least 20 seconds and with soapy and hot water will ensure the elimination of foodborne bacteria. Learn more about proper handwashing and get your team an informational poster about the topic here. Personal hygiene may also include properly wearing a protective uniform, clean clothes, neatly tied hair, and regularly trimmed nails.



To keep foods such as raw meats, milk, and other dishes safe for consumption, cooking them is essential. This step reduces the initial microbial load of foods to acceptable levels and kills target pathogens. Food safety standards for cooking different types of food have been provided by several food safety authorities. 

Things to remember when cooking:

Accurately measure the target temperature. The standards for cooking different foods have been established to make the food safe and enjoyable for everybody. To do this step correctly, the application of heat must be accurate and well-guided. Use a clean food thermometer and a cooking chart to help you make sure that you will be targeting the correct internal temperature for your food. 

Follow the prescribed time. In combination with an accurate temperature reading, the heat treatment must also be applied for a specific amount of time. This ensures the efficacy of the cooking process. Additionally, a longer cooking time can be applied if you intend to cook foods at a lower temperature. As an example, while the generally prescribed temperature to cook chicken is 74°C (165°F), it can be cooked at 62.8°C (145°F) as long as this temperature is constantly held for 9.8 minutes.

Evenly cook food. In cooking food, it's important to hit the correct internal temperature. Doing this every time means that the food receives equal treatment and that the heat reaches the coldest part of the ingredient, otherwise known as cold spots. 

Serve food hot. In addition to proper cooking, foods must be kept hot if they are meant to be served moments after cooking. This step helps maintain the safety of the food being served. Keep food temperature at least 63°C (145°F) to prevent the growth of pathogenic microorganisms.

Reheat leftover foodsWhether it is in a restaurant kitchen or home setup, leftovers are very common. These foods have already been exposed to external factors and may have already attracted an unalarming amount of pathogens. To ensure the safety of leftover foods when you intend to serve them again, thoroughly reheat them to 74°C (165°F).


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This step refers to one of the fastest ways that promote the spread of pathogens and foodborne diseases. By definition, cross-contamination is a way of transferring food safety hazards from one area to another. This event can be classified into three different instances:

  • Food to food
  • Equipment to food
  • People to food

Cross-contamination poses a great risk for any food establishment. This occurs when food hygiene practices are not being applied and when a team's approach to food safety is not properly monitored. Without anyone knowing, hazards, especially pathogens, can be easily transmitted. Cross-contamination can be observed in the form of these situations:

  • When handling any raw food such as meat and vegetables without washing your hands in between. Vegetables require less processing than meat and therefore, transmitted pathogens have greater chances of surviving.
  • Using dirty uniforms, protective gear, utensils, and other materials that can come in contact with food.
  • When sick employees are allowed to work. Viruses from sick kitchen staff can also be transmitted to food and can become a vector of spreading the disease.
  • Using a single chopping board or inadequately cleaning food contact surfaces during food preparation.
  • Incorrect handwashing.

The first key to preventing cross-contamination is knowing how and when it could happen. Through this, food handlers can be more aware and conscious of how they do things. In addition, proper food hygiene practices can be applied to help prevent cross-contamination from happening.



Chilling is a food safety practice that helps control food safety hazards. The main principle behind chilling is that the low temperature of a refrigerator slows down the reproduction of pathogens. This works both ways for cooked foods and raw materials. As such, the low temperature during chilling must be consistently maintained.

Here are a few important things to remember during chilling:

  • Chill raw materials such as raw meat if they are not going to be immediately used.
  • Chill leftovers within 2 hours after consuming a part of it. Allowing leftovers to stay at the temperature danger zone attracts pathogenic microorganisms to spoil them.
  • Set the refrigerator between  0°C or 5°C (32°F and 41°F) to make the chilling process effective.
  • Arrange foods in the refrigerator according to their proper groups. Cooked and ready-to-eat food, as well as those that will only need minimal processing must be separated from materials such as meat. Place raw meats in the lowest part of the refrigerator to prevent any juices from dripping.
  • Calibrate the fridge thermometer regularly to ensure accurate temperature readings. 
  • Keep your fridge clean.

Before chilling, foods must be cooled down as fast as possible. Preferably, the cooldown process must be achieved within the first two hours. This step prevents the overall temperature from falling to maintain its capacity to cool all foods inside. Chilling is the best way to extend the shelf life of food and to stock perishable raw materials for later use. As long as it is done correctly, foods can stay wholesome for an extended period.


cooking is one of the four Cs of food safety


Importance of following the 4 C's of food safety

The four C's of food safety are not mere food handling practices that can be ignored. They are essential food safety tasks that help every food business maintain compliance. They also help protect customers from any foodborne disease. Quality of services and food items must always remain safe to be enjoyed by everyone.

The 4 C's of food safety can help every food business achieve the following benefits:

Cost-saving. When food services and products are made and served correctly, food businesses can reap their products without any additional costs. Problems such as product recall cost money, time, and effort from your side and will surely hurt your brand image. 

Food safety. The main objective of these major food safety practices is to control food safety. They were designed to reduce, if not eliminate, potential hazards that can cause food poisoning. They are general activities that may be considered most effective and can even amplify the effects of more sophisticated food safety management systems.

Gain consumer confidence. If a food business consistently displays thorough use of these food safety practices, customers can have more confidence in your business. They will be more likely to come back and even promote your services through word of the mouth.

Avoid food-related problems. Concerning foodborne diseases, this problem can easily escalate especially if it has caused more significant damage. In the case of grave events such as hospitalization or death of a customer, your food business can face lawsuits and product recalls. If the 4 C's of food safety are properly implemented and monitored, these problems can be avoided.

Employee training. As part of improving the knowledge and skills of your food employees, the introduction of these practices can help them become more adept with everyday food operations. With specific instructions on how to properly perform the 4 C's of food safety, employees can unconsciously improve and apply them even when no one is looking.

One of the main things that any food business has to achieve to become successful is to prove to consumers and food safety authorities that they are capable of serving delicious and safe food. The occurrence of foodborne problems does not only affect personal living but other industries as well. Whenever consumers become sick, the burden for the health sector increases, whereas the manpower for other industries decreases.


Monitoring the 4 C's of food safety with FoodDocs

The implementation of food safety practices such as cleaning, cooking, cross-contamination avoidance, and chilling always be coupled with proper monitoring. The documents that become generated from monitoring these practices are proof of the quality and safety of your food products. This can be achieved by having a well-trained food safety team and a working food safety management system. With this in your business, you can rest easy and be assured of safe food production. Proper and extensive training as well as consulting food safety experts can help you achieve these elements.

In the food industry, the faster you achieve and maintain compliance, the faster you can achieve success. To help you lessen the time you will have to spend on many training programmes and the cost of hiring a food safety expert, you can use our digital Food Safety Management System. With our services, you can switch to a digital platform complete with smart monitoring forms and checklists to help you ensure the implementation of the 4 C's of food safety.

What we are offering is perhaps the quickest way to have a comprehensive FSMS powered by artificial intelligence. In just an average of 15 minutes, we can provide you with this. The process is not even complicated. All you have to do is answer a few questions that will help describe your daily operations. Using a machine-learning programme, our system automatically generates a digital FSMS fit for your business tasks.

With our digital FSMS, you can save 20% of your time in managing your food safety operations. You can use a real-time dashboard that reflects your daily operations. Identify which areas need more attention and which ones become sources of food safety problems. Never miss any of the 4 C's of food safety with our smart notification feature through our mobile app. This feature notifies your employees of any task that needs to be done.

Customise any of the monitoring forms that we automatically generate for you to input any unique tasks from your business. You can even set your monitoring forms to be automatically filled by our system based on your previous data entries. All that is left for your employees to do is verify all information.

At FoodDocs, we aim to make food safety compliance accessible for all food businesses and maintain it for them. We understand the importance of food safety as well as the difficulty of ensuring that compliance is always met. Join over 15,000 customers that are using our digital FSMS to maintain compliance. Start your own digital monitoring system journey with us by availing of our free, 14-day trial.



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