Food safety

What are the 4 steps of food safety? Tips to follow

Foodborne illnesses can be significantly controlled through four simple steps.

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Foodborne illnesses can be significantly controlled through four simple steps.

  • Food safety steps, including cleaning, cooking, separating, and chilling, are the basic requirements for a safe food establishment.
  • These 4 steps of food safety help prevent the spread of any type of contamination in a food establishment.
  • A food safety management system is necessary to ensure that these food safety operations are regularly performed.

The essence of most food safety practices is prevention. There is not much you can do when the food becomes spoiled. As such, food handlers aim to prevent the spread of contamination and thereby prevent food spoilage and food poisoning.

Every food handler's responsibility is to ensure that the food they prepare is made with the highest approach to food safety. This objective can easily be achieved through the 4 steps of food safety.


cooking is one of the food safety steps


Food businesses play a great role in protecting public health from foodborne diseases. It is part of every food regulation to require food businesses to uphold strict standards for food safety. Food service businesses have been associated with a large number of foodborne illness outbreaks in the past. Individuals with weak immune systems, such as the elderly and pregnant women, are significantly at risk from such incidents.

This shows how significant having food safety systems are for a food business. Perhaps one of the most advanced ways to ensure food safety nowadays is through the use of food safety software.

Learn more about the 4 essential steps for food safety in this article.


What are the 4 steps of food safety?

There are many different ways to achieve food safety. Some steps target specific food safety hazards, whereas others aim to create a generally safe and clean working environment. Food safety systems comprise basic and advanced food operations to maintain food safety. 

The food industry has identified four basic steps that are essential for any approach to food safety. They lay out the foundation even for the most basic food safety system.

The four simple steps to food safety include:

  • Cleaning
  • Cooking
  • Chilling
  • Separating 


4 steps of food safety

Below, we discuss each step in detail on how they contribute to food safety and how they can be achieved in your food business. 



Cleaning refers to excluding foodborne pathogens, including bacteria, viruses, and other microbiological hazards, through a series of operations. This step is applied throughout the entire food business, on food handlers, food contact surfaces, floors, and other areas.


On food handlers

Because food handlers have direct contact with food and the tools used to prepare them, this makes them a potential source of contamination. As such, food handlers must maintain cleanliness at all times, which can be achieved through the following steps:

Practice proper handwashing.

  • Handwashing must be performed through a series of standard steps:

Step 1: Rinse hands with water.

Step 2: Lather hands with soap.

Step 3: Rub hands palm to palm.

Step 4: Rub back of hands.

Step 5: Rub fingers while interlaced.

Step 6: Rub the base of the thumbs.

Step 7: Rub fingernails (Note: you can use a brush with soft bristles.)

Step 8: Wash wrists.

Step 9: Rinse hand well.

Step 10: Dry hands with a clean towel or tissue.

Step 11: Turn off the faucet using a disposable paper towel.

what is the correct order of steps for handwashing-1



When washing your hands, make sure to have the right tools such as soap, brush, and paper towels if needed. In addition to performing the task in a particular sequence, handwashing must be performed for a minimum of 20 seconds to remove potential pathogens effectively. 

Proper handwashing is perhaps one of the best ways to prevent the spread of contamination in a food business. Find out more information on how, where, and when to wash your hands here

Another way for food handlers to minimize contamination is to use disposable gloves. When handling ready-to-eat foods, food handlers are recommended to wear gloves as these products will no longer pass any other processing. 

This operation is not intended to replace handwashing despite the use of gloves. There are instances when a food handler will be required to wear gloves, such as when employees have open wounds.


On food contact surfaces and utensils

Foods handled in your establishment pass through several food contact surfaces before they become ready for serving. As such, all surfaces, tools, and utensils that will be used in these processes must be clean and free from any potential hazards.

Cleaning contact surfaces must also be accompanied by sanitizing and performed in a particular sequence. For a more effective cleaning process, follow these basic food safety steps:


Step 1. Manually clean surfaces or tools by removing any visible food particles.

Step 2. Wash with warm, soapy water.

Step 3. Rinse the surface with warm water to remove any remaining soap.

Step 4. Soak surfaces, tools, utensils, and dishes in your chosen sanitizer, following the manufacturer's directions. 

Step 5. Allow the sanitizer to air dry naturally.


On foods

While not all foods are recommended to be prewashed, such as raw meat and poultry, to prevent the spread of harmful bacteria, other ingredients must be precleaned. 

Always wash fresh produce such as fresh fruits, vegetables, and crops before using it to remove any potentially present contaminants. Washing must be done only with running water and a clean produce brush without any sanitizing solution as an aid.



Cooking foods is considered a critical control point in almost all food safety systems. This operation is often used as the last step to control or eliminate foodborne pathogens in food. 

For this process to become effective, it has to be precise. Different types of food must be cooked to proper internal temperatures to render them safe. 

To ensure that the foods you serve are always safe for consumption, follow these steps:

  • Always use a properly calibrated bimetal or digital food thermometer when measuring the internal temperature of your foods.
  • Use a temperature cooking chart as a guide for the recommended internal temperature of the foods you cook. 
  • Unless advised otherwise, allow cooked foods a 3-minute rest time before carving.
  • All refrigerated, cooked leftovers must be thoroughly heated in a microwave or oven thoroughly to 165°F (74°C).
  • Keep foods hot at 63°C (145°F) before serving to prevent the potential and unwanted growth of microorganisms.

cooking is one of the 4 steps of food safety



Chilling refers to the operation in which foods are stored in low temperatures to control the unwanted growth of harmful germs such as bacteria in food. At the temperature danger zone, which is 40°F to 140°F (5°C to 60°C), pathogens can optimally grow and spoil foods faster.

Chilling can be achieved through refrigeration or freezing foods, depending on the required length of storage. To become effective, regular monitoring must be consistently performed. Approximately hours of exposure to the temperature danger zone can render the food unsafe for consumption.

Remember the following notes when applying chilling on foods:

  • Keep food cold at 39°F (4°C) or below to protect them from spoilage.
  • Freeze foods at a freezer temperature of 0°F (-18°C) or below.
  • Quickly store cooled leftovers in shallow and airtight containers and refrigerate as soon as possible.
  • Use the two-stage cooling method before refrigerating or freezing foods.
  • Arrange foods in the refrigerator and freezer in order of the required degree of cooking. Foods that require high cooking safe temperature must be placed at the bottom, whereas ready-to-eat foods should be at the top.
  • Always maintain the cleanliness of refrigerators.


chilling is one of the food safety steps



A huge concern in any food business is cross-contamination. This issue can spread food safety hazards very fast and cause widespread foodborne illness outbreaks.

The best solution to cross-contamination is to apply a strict protocol for separating tools and utensils used for raw ingredients and ready-to-eat foods. In addition, apply zoning in your kitchen area to ensure that the potential for cross-contamination is lessened. 

Here are a few more pointers to prevent cross-contamination:

  • Separate raw meats, fresh produce, poultry, and egg products in grocery bags or grocery shopping carts.
  • Always use separate cutting boards and knives for preparing raw and ready-to-eat foods.
  • Always clean and sanitize food contact surfaces, utensils, and tools used to prepare raw foods before switching ingredients.
  • Keep raw ingredients in airtight, shallow containers to prevent cross-contamination during storage.


Read more about useful food safety rules and tips from here


What is the importance of the 4 simple steps to food safety?

The four simple steps to food safety serve as minimum standards for food handling practices. They are some of the most basic practices that need to be constantly performed in any food business. Although basic, they are essential in making the environment of a food business safe and free of food contaminations.

Cooking, cleaning, chilling, and separating are further elaborated in other food safety management systems. For example, cooking is specified with critical limits in a HACCP food safety plan to target specific foodborne bacteria. In addition, chilling is constantly monitored to ensure that the storage temperature is consistently maintained. Use our list of free food safety documents and tools to help guide your team in maintaining food safety.

Failure to observe these basic steps can lead to bigger food safety risks. At FoodDocs, we have devised the most efficient way to ensure that all four food safety steps are always fulfilled. Using our digital Food Safety Management System, you can get an automatically generated monitoring system with smart features. Learn more at the end of this article.


What is the most important step of food safety?

Although it may seem very simple, one of the most important steps in food safety is cleaning. This step applies to handwashing and maintaining kitchen surfaces and tools.

Cleaning ensures that the surrounding food handlers, when preparing food, are always free from foodborne pathogens. Regular maintenance of clean conditions can significantly help businesses keep food safe. 


How to make sure your team understands the importance of food safety steps?

Food handlers must undergo a series of food safety training that will introduce the food safety steps to them. Such food safety training programs aim to demonstrate how to perform a food safety task and explain the significance of every step.

Helping food handlers to understand every food safety step will give them a deeper appreciation of doing these tasks. This also reinforces the food safety culture and improves accountability in your team.


What can help you to follow the 4 steps of food safety?

While providing the necessary training to your food employees will give them the knowledge on how to perform the 4 steps of food safety, you still need to ensure that they are consistently applied. With managing your business and ensuring that your operations are always safe, how can you keep an eye on everything all at once?

Nowadays, a traditional food safety management system can only do the bare minimum. You need a smarter way to ensure food safety and increase accountability in your team. What would be a better way to do this than to use a digital solution?

In recent times, everything is going digital and becoming more efficient. At FoodDocs, we have embraced the digital platform and made food safety management smarter for food businesses.

We offer a digital solution that can help you ensure that every food safety task is done on time and correctly. When you choose to use our digital solution, you can get the following benefits from our system features:

  • You can get automatically generated monitoring forms for cleaning, monitoring temperature, and other food safety tasks. These forms are equipped with detailed instructions to guide food handlers in executing and monitoring them. You can use our following monitoring logs and checklists to fulfil the 4 food safety tasks:
    • Temperature monitoring log
    • Fridge temperature monitoring log
    • Cleaning and sanitation schedule
    • Master Sanitation Checklist

FoodDocs Fridge Temp Log


  • Our digital monitoring forms are equipped with an auto-fill solution to help food handlers save time and improve monitoring accuracy. Our system will prefill the digital forms and would only require verification. 

  • Get a smart notification system that will send alerts to remind food handlers whenever a food safety task needs to be done. With this feature, you can be sure that all tasks are done on time.

In addition to features that help food handlers execute food safety tasks, our digital Food Safety Management System can also help food safety managers:

  • Our system features a real-time dashboard that gives you an overview of your entire operations. Quickly identify and address areas that need improvement with this system feature.
  • Get a cloud storage system where you can easily store, organize, and access your documents anytime. 

Switching to our digital Food Safety Management System from a traditional FSMS would only take 15 minutes! All you need to do is answer a few basic questions to describe your operations. Using artificial intelligence and a machine-learning program, our system will automatically generate all important digital documents for you.

You can further customize the digital documents to fit your operations more. With our system, you can be more confident that your premises and food products will remain compliant with food safety regulations all the time.

If you want to try our services, you can use our free 14-day trial and start maintaining compliance digitally now.




Frequently Asked Questions

Here are some important frequently asked questions about the topic "what are the four simple steps to food safety?"


What are the 5 ways to make our food safer?

You can make food safer by following these food safety steps:

  1. Clean and sanitize all food contact surfaces, tools, equipment, and utensils.
  2. Chill foods after cooking to prevent the growth of pathogens during storage.
  3. Cook foods to the recommended internal temperatures.
  4. Separate tools that are used for raw ingredients and ready-to-eat foods.
  5. Practice regular handwashing. 


What is the most important way to keep food safe?

To ensure the foods are always kept safe, ensure that the storage conditions are consistently maintained. Refrigeration can preserve the freshness of perishable food items for a longer period of time, given that it is consistently maintained.


What can you do to ensure food safety at every step of the process?

The best way to ensure food safety in every step is to establish a comprehensive food safety management system with detailed monitoring systems.


What if you forget one of the food safety steps?

Forgetting or inadequately performing a food safety operation increases the risk of causing foodborne illnesses. Food safety steps are required for a food business to produce safe foods and prevent causing a foodborne illness outbreak. 



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