What can I do to help keep my food safe?

Posted: Jun 14, 2013

Canada has one of the safer food supplies in the world. Still, sometimes the food we eat can make us sick.
Food borne illness, also known as “food poisoning”, occurs if we eat food that has been contaminated by pathogens that can make us ill. Pathogens include bacteria, viruses and parasites which can produce symptoms ranging from upset stomach, to vomiting and diarrhea. People who are most likely to get sick from food borne illness are infants and young children,  seniors, pregnant women or people with a weakened-immune system due to chronic illness or other illnesses.
The good news is, you can reduce the risk of foodborne illness by using safe food handling practices when shopping for, storing, and cooking food. Some important practices are:

Safe Shopping:

  • Buy refrigerated or frozen food LAST and get it home quickly to your fridge or freezer.
  • Put raw meat, fish and poultry in individual plastic bags and keep them away from other foods, such as fresh vegetables and fruits, in your grocery cart.
  • Buy food in good condition; cans should be free of dents, cracks or bulging sides or lids; seals on packages should not be broken; frozen foods should be solid; refrigerated food should feel cool to the touch.
  • Buy fresh fruits and vegetables that are free of bruises or blemishes and not wilted.
  • Label reusable bags or bins with the type of food you carry in it. Keep a specific bin or bag just for raw meat, poultry, fish and seafood. Wash reusable bags and bins often.

Safe Food Storage:

  • Freeze or refrigerate foods that are not shelf-stable as soon as you arrive home from your shopping trip. Shelf-stable foods are dried or in a can or container not requiring refrigeration for safety. If a large package of chilled meat or poultry needs to be separated and packed in smaller containers prior to freezing, do so quickly. Wash your hands well before and after, and clean all cutting boards, knives and work surfaces thoroughly.
  • Be sure your refrigerator and freezer are working properly . The refrigerator should keep food at 4C (40F) or lower, but not so cold that milk or vegetables freeze. The freezer should be kept at -18C (0F).
  • Place packages of raw meat or poultry in a container on the bottom of the refrigerator so the juices do not drip and contaminate other foods.
  • Refrigerate leftover foods promptly in uncovered, shallow containers.  When the food is at refrigeration temperature, cover.
  • Throw away any cooked food that has been left at room temperature for more than two hours.

Safe Food Cooking:

  • Always start by washing your hands with warm water and soap for at least 20 seconds. Make sure untensils and cooking surfaces have also been washed.
  • Wash all vegetables and fruits under fresh, cool running water, even if you plan to peel and cook them.
  • Allow adequate cooking time if foods are frozen or partly frozen when you put them into the microwave or oven to cook.
  • Cook to a safe internal temperature. Use a digital food thermometer to check doneness and to verify that food has reached a safe temperature when cooking.
  • Always reheat leftovers to a safe internal temperature of 74C (165F).

Check out Health Canada’s tips for safe internal cooking temperatures at www.hc-sc.gc.ca/fn-an/securit/kitchen-cuisine/cook-temp-cuisson-eng.php.

Keep Food Safe: Four Simple Steps

CLEAN: Before, during and after cooking, wash your hands and all surfaces that come in contact with food; wash well and often.
CHILL: Return foods to the refrigerator or freezer promptly after using.
SEPARATE: Keep raw meat, poultry and seafood and their juices separate from one another and from other foods. Don’t use tools or dishes that touched raw meat or cooked meat or other ready-to eat foods without thoroughly washing first.
COOK: Cook foods adequately. Don’t rely on colour changes only.
For more safe food handling tips from Health Canada visit www.hc-sc.gc.ca/fn-an/securit/kitchen-cuisine/index-eng.php.