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Produce safety

Fruits and vegetables make up the largest arc of Canada's Food Guide rainbow. A healthy diet rich in a variety of fruits and vegetables may even help reduce the risk of some types of cancer. According to Canada's Food Guide, having at least one vegetable or fruit at every meal and as a snack will help you get the amount of fruits and vegetables you need each day.

While the food we eat in Canada is among the safest in the world, food contaminated by bacteria, viruses and parasites (foodborne pathogens) can make you sick. Every year, thousands of Canadians get food poisoning. Because a lot of fresh produce is not cooked before being consumed, it's important to handle it safely to prevent it being contaminated with harmful microorganisms. Protect your family from food poisoning by following some simple rules.

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Health risks

Fresh fruits and vegetables do not naturally contain microorganisms (e.g., bacteria, viruses and parasites) that can cause food poisoning. However, fresh produce can become contaminated in the field through contact with soil, contaminated water, wild or domestic animals, or improperly composted manure. It can also come into contact with harmful microorganisms during and after harvest if it is not properly handled, stored, and transported. In addition, fruits and vegetables can become contaminated through contact with raw food items such as meat, poultry, seafood, and their juices. This can happen at the grocery store, in the shopping cart, in the refrigerator, or on counters and cutting boards in the kitchen.

Did you know?

Eating a diet low in saturated and trans fats may reduce the risk of heart disease and can contribute to your overall health and vitality.

In Canada, there have been outbreaks of foodborne illness tied to eating cantaloupes, tomatoes, leafy greens (i.e., iceberg lettuce, spinach, and pre-cut ready-to-eat salad) and fresh herbs, such as basil.

The groups at higher risk for serious health effects include pregnant women, children under the age of 5, adults over the age of 60, and people with weakened immune systems. You should see a health care professional and contact your local public health unit as soon as possible if you think you have a foodborne illness.

Safety tips

While much is being done at the farms and in the grocery stores to make sure that fresh produce is safe, there are still steps we can take in our homes to help prevent foodborne illnesses. By making sure that fruits and vegetables are properly handled, prepared and stored, you can enjoy the healthy benefits of these foods and help prevent foodborne illnesses. Follow the safety tips below to protect your family.

Shopping

  • Buy cold or frozen food at the end of your shopping trip.
  • Examine fruits and vegetables carefully and avoid buying items that are bruised or damaged.
  • If buying pre-cut or ready-to-eat fruits and vegetables be sure they have been properly refrigerated at 4°C or below. This means they should be displayed in a refrigerated container and not just sitting on top of ice.
  • Separate fresh fruits and vegetables from meat, poultry and seafood products in the shopping cart and bags.
  • Wash your reusable grocery bags frequently.

Chilling

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

  • When you get home, refrigerate the fresh fruits and vegetables that need refrigeration. This includes all pre-cut and ready-to-eat produce. Ask your grocer if you are not certain whether specific items need to be refrigerated.
  • When you refrigerate fruits and vegetables, keep them separate from meat, poultry, seafood, and their juices.
  • Make sure your refrigerator is set at 4 °C (40 °F) or lower. This will keep your food out of the temperature danger zone between 4 °C (40 °F) to 60 °C (140 °F) where bacteria can grow quickly.

Cleaning

  • Wash your hands with soap and warm water for at least 20 seconds.
  • Cut away any bruised or damaged areas on fruits and vegetables, since harmful bacteria can thrive in these areas. Be sure to clean your knife with hot water and soap before using it again.
  • Wash fruits and vegetables thoroughly under fresh, cool, running water, even if you plan to peel them. This helps prevent the spread of any bacteria that may be present. (This is a general safety tip that may not always apply. For example, you do not need to wash a banana before peeling it.
  • Use a clean produce brush to scrub items that have firm surfaces (e.g., oranges, melons, potatoes, carrots, etc.). It is not necessary to use produce cleansers to wash fresh fruits and vegetables.
  • Ready-to-eat, bagged, pre-washed leafy greens do not need to be washed again before eating. However, pre-cut or pre-washed leafy greens sold in open bags or containers should be washed before eating.
  • Use one cutting board for produce, and a separate one for raw meat, poultry, fish and seafood.
  • Place peeled or cut fruits and vegetables on/into a separate clean plate or container to prevent them from becoming cross-contaminated.
  • Use paper towels to wipe kitchen surfaces, or change dishcloths daily to avoid the risk of cross-contamination and the spread of bacteria and 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 (following the directions on the container) or a bleach solution (5 ml household bleach to 750 ml of water), and rinse with water.

Some produce should be avoided especially for high risks groups like pregnant women, people with weak immune systems and older adults.

How the Government of Canada protects you

The Government of Canada is committed to food safety. Health Canada establishes regulations and standards relating to the safety and nutritional quality of foods sold in Canada. Through inspection and enforcement activities, the Canadian Food Inspection Agency verifies that food sold in Canada meets Health Canada's requirements.

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