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2-hour / 4-hour rule

If you’re a food business, using the 2-hour / 4-hour rule is a good way to keep food that’s taken out of the fridge safe.

Why use the 2-hour/4-hour rule?

The 2-hour/4-hour rule is a good way to make sure potentially hazardous food is safe even if it’s been out of refrigeration.

The rule has been scientifically checked and is based on how quickly microorganisms grow in food at temperatures between 5°C and 60°C.

How it works

Important tip: The time limits take into account the whole time the food has been out of the fridge. This includes preparation, storing, transport and display. 

Time food is kept between 5°C and 60°C  What you can do with the food 

Less than 2 hours 

The food can be used, sold or put back in the fridge to use later

Between 2 and 4 hours 

The food can be used or sold, but it can’t be put back in the fridge to use later

More than 4 hours 

This food can’t be sold and must be thrown away

The time between 5°C and 60°C is cumulative—that means you need to add up every time the food has been out of the fridge, including during preparation, storage, transport and display.

As long as you follow this, you can be confident the food is safe.

How do I use the rule?

  1. Start timing as soon as the food is taken out of refrigeration. 

  2. Keep track of how long the food is out of refrigeration so you can be sure when the 2-hour and 4-hour time limits are reached (e.g. write down each time food is brought out of refrigeration and put back, or display food on colour-coded plates so you know when they have to be sold by).
  3. Remember to add up all time periods the food has been between 5°C and 60°C to work out the total time. If in doubt, throw it out.

More information




Page last updated 7 December 2023