What is the 2-hour / 4-hour rule for Food Hygiene?

Why should food businesses consider the 2-hour / 4-hour rule for food hygiene?

More than four million Australians get sick each year due to contaminated food, and that has become an alarming health concern. The public thought chemical or pesticide contamination was the main threat, but it was found that microbial contamination caused the problems, as it can grow and increase in number through the supply chain. Salmonella bacteria, which are commonly found in chickens and other livestock, are also considered to be responsible for the outbreaks associated with handling fresh produce. And gastroenteritis symptoms such as diarrhoea, nausea, and cramps are what susceptible individuals suffer in most cases.

There have been increasing cases of salmonella poisoning in the states of Victoria and Queensland, which made the Department of Health (DOH) declare salmonella as one of the top agents in causing foodborne illnesses. For the past 20 years, Australia is one of the countries that have the highest rates of such cases.

Reduction strategies have been implemented to minimise the occurrence of foodborne illnesses related to salmonella, which resulted in implementing strong food safety practices. These strategies are based on the Food Standards Code, and with it, the alternative method for temperature control, also known as the “2-hour / 4-hour rule”.

This rule suggests that in order to lower the risks of food poisoning, food should be safely held between the “temperature danger zone” (5°C and 60°C). Studies found that food that has been exposed in the temperature danger zone for less than 2 hours can still be stored in the refrigerator at a temperature of 5°C, or heated to above 60°C, and be taken out for later use or consumption. However, the total time the food should spend within the temperature danger zone must not be longer than 4 hours.


How do you use the 2-hour / 4-hour rule for food hygiene?

Food businesses that decide to make use of the 2-hour/4-hour rule must meet what the Food Standards Code required, especially when asked by a council Environmental Health Officer or an authorised officer from the NSW Food Authority. The business must be able to comply with the following requirements:

Monitoring. Food businesses must ensure that during the receival, storage, and preparation, the requirements for ingredients and potentially hazardous foods (PHF) are followed.

Displaying. Cold foods must not be exposed at temperatures above 25°C or in direct sunlight as this allows growth of bacteria at a rapid rate.

Documenting. A system should be implemented and documented. The documentation should contain the monitoring, the time spent the food is displayed out of temperature control, appropriate labelling of food, and disposal of food after 4 hours.

If the business fails to successfully demonstrate the correct application of the 2-hour/4-hour rule for temperature control, it may suffer due to a breach of the Food Standards Code, leading to possible termination of the business. Food businesses must be responsible for making sure that all of their food handlers understand the rule and that they must have completed the proper records.


You can learn more about food hygiene by undertaking a certificate in food safety course.

Workplace Hygiene for Food Handlers – All states, click here.

Food Safety Supervisor – QLD, South Australia, Western Australia, Northern Territory and Victoria, click here.