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Food safety and you

Food safety is important for everyone and we can all take simple steps to protect ourselves and our families.

While the food we eat in Canada is among the safest in the world, things can go wrong anywhere. Food can become contaminated by bacteria, viruses and parasites as it makes its way to your table. Learning about safe food selection, handling and preparation practices, helps keep you and others at risk, safe.

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Health risks

Every year, more than 4 million Canadians get food poisoning (also known as foodborne illness or food-related illness). Symptoms usually include nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, stomach pain and fever.

Usually people recover quickly with no lasting complications, but in some cases, serious complications can occur, including death.

Food poisoning is caused by food that is contaminated. Knowing how to properly cook, clean, chill and separate foods while handling and preparing them can help you prevent food poisoning.

Follow the safety tips below to protect yourself and your family.

Did you know?

You cannot tell if food is unsafe by its smell or taste. When in doubt, throw it out!

Cleaning

Cleaning anything that comes into contact with food will help eliminate bacteria and reduce the risk of food-related illness. This includes your hands, kitchen surfaces, utensils, fruit and vegetables and reusable grocery bags.

You, your tools and kitchen surfaces

  • Wash your hands. Use regular soap or an alcohol-based hand rub if soap and water are not available.
    • Wash with warm, soapy water for at least 20 seconds.
    • Washing is especially important before and after handling raw meat, poultry, fish or seafood. Also wash your hands after handling pets, changing diapers and of course, using the bathroom.
  • Separate your cutting boards. Use one board for produce and another for raw meat, poultry, fish and seafood.
  • Plate or utensils used to handle raw food should be washed thoroughly with soap before reuse.
  • Use paper towels to wipe kitchen surfaces. Otherwise, change dishcloths daily to avoid the risk of cross-contamination and the spread of bacteria.
    • Avoid using sponges, as they are harder to keep bacteria-free.
  • Sanitize countertops, cutting boards and utensils before and after preparing food. Use a kitchen sanitizer (as directed) or a bleach solution (5 millilitres, or mL, bleach to 750 mL of water). Rinse all items carefully with water.
  • Wash your reusable grocery bags frequently.

Your food

  • Wash your fresh fruit and vegetables with potable water before use. Use a vegetable brush on produce that have a firm skin (examples: carrots and melons).
    • Do not use soap to wash your produce.
    • Wash your produce under running water instead of soaking it in the sink. Bacteria in the sink could be transferred to your food.

Chilling

It is important to keep cold food cold and hot food hot, so that your food never reaches the "temperature danger zone." This is where bacteria can grow quickly and cause food poisoning.

  • Set your refrigerator at 4°C(40°F) or lower and your freezer at -18°C(0°F) or lower. Bacteria can grow quickly under the right conditions. The temperature danger zone for food is between 4°C(40°F) to 60°C(140°F).
  • Keep your raw meat, poultry, fish and seafood cold. Refrigerate or freeze them as soon as possible or within two hours.
  • Keep your raw meat, poultry, fish and seafood separate from other food in the refrigerator. Store them in different containers.
  • Place raw meat, poultry, fish and seafood in sealed containers or plastic bags. To keep raw juices from dripping on other food, store these items on the bottom shelf of your refrigerator.  
  • Store deli meats in the refrigerator and use them within four days or, preferably, two to three days after opening.
  • Store washed, cut fruit and sliced vegetables in the refrigerator.
  • Cook raw meat, poultry, fish, and seafood no more than two to three days after purchasing. If you do not intend to cook it within this time, it should be frozen.

Thawing

The safest way to thaw food, especially raw meat, poultry, fish or seafood, is in the refrigerator. Always defrost food in the refrigerator, in cold water or in the microwave—never at room temperature. Food defrosted in the microwave should be cooked as soon as possible after thawing. Do not re-freeze thawed food. Wash your hands and clean and sanitize the sink, utensils, surfaces and dishes used when thawing the food.

Cooking

Cooking food properly is the best way to make sure it is safe to eat. Bacteria like E. coli, S almonella and Listeria are killed by heat.

  • Cook food completely, using a clean thermometer to measure the temperature. See Health Canada's safe internal cooking temperatures to learn the proper way of taking measurements and to make sure that the food has been cooked to a safe internal temperature.
  • Check the internal temperature of the thickest pieces of meat, poultry, fish or seafood because food can cook unevenly.
    • Insert the digital thermometer all the way to the middle, avoiding contact with bones.
    • For hamburgers, insert the digital thermometer through the side of the patty, all the way to the middle.
  • Before cooking fruit or vegetables, cut away any bruised or damaged areas, since harmful bacteria can thrive in these areas.
  • Make sure that cooked foods don't come into contact with any food that hasn't been cooked.
  • Keep hot foods at or above 60ºC (140°F). Bacteria can grow quickly in the danger zone between 4°C to 60°C (40°F to 14s0°F).

Did you know?

Colour does not always tell you if your food is safe to eat. Always follow internal cooking temperatures to be safe!

Leftovers

Proper storage keeps leftovers at their freshest, longer.

  • Refrigerate or freeze all leftovers within two hours to minimize the chance of bacteria growing.
  • Cut and debone the meat from large cooked birds before storing.
  • Avoid overstocking the refrigerator, so that cool air can circulate effectively.
  • Use refrigerated leftovers as soon as possible, ideally within two to four days.
  • When reheating food, make sure it's cooked to a temperature of at least 74°C (165°F). In general, you shouldn't reheat the same leftovers more than once.

Select safer alternatives

Some foods can present a higher risk because of the way they are produced and how they are stored. Children under five, adults over sixty, pregnant women and those with a compromised immune system, are especially at risk. You can minimize your chances of food poisoning by avoiding some types of food.

Keep up to date on food recalls and advisories

We strongly suggest you pay attention to food recalls and advisories

Shopping

  • Buy cold or frozen food at the end of your shopping trip.
  • Check the "best before" date on your food.
  • Keep your raw meat, poultry, fish and seafood away from other food in your grocery cart.
  • Examine fruit and vegetables carefully and avoid buying items that are bruised or damaged.
  • If you use reusable grocery bags or bins, label a specific bag or bin for meat, poultry or seafood.

The Government of Canada's role

There are three organizations under the Minister of Health responsible for ensuring food safety in Canada:

  • Health Canada
    • develops food safety and nutrition standards and policies
    • assesses food safety risks
    • promotes healthy eating through initiatives like Canada's Food Guide
  • The Canadian Food Inspection Agency
    • sets standards to detect and prevent risks to Canada's food supply
    • verifies that industry is meeting federal food safety and regulatory requirements
  • The Public Health Agency of Canada
    • conducts food-related illness surveillance and outbreak investigations
    • provides advice to Canadians on how to protect themselves during an outbreak
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