Food safety tips

December 4, 2006 in Food Safety

Food safety tips

It’s estimated that one in four North Americans will contract some form of food poisoning each year. Surveys in Canada and the United States reveal that most people are unaware of the magnitude of foodborne illness, potentially putting them at greater risk of becoming ill from contaminated food.

It's estimated that one in four North Americans will contract some form of food poisoning each year. Surveys in Canada and the United States reveal that most people are unaware of the magnitude of foodborne illness, potentially putting them at greater risk of becoming ill from contaminated food.

Common symptoms of food poisoning include stomach cramps, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, chills and fever. They can appear within a few hours after eating a contaminated food or several days to weeks - even up to a month or more - when they're no longer clearly linked to a particular food.  In fact, many cases of food poisoning go unreported because symptoms are passed off as the stomach flu or overeating.

Food poisoning is caused by bacteria, bacterial toxins and molds in foods.  Bacteria are normally present everywhere - in the air, soil, water and in people and animals.  But disease-causing bacteria multiply rapidly in the danger zone, a temperature range of 4°C (40°F) and 60°C (140°F), leading to food contamination.

Because most food poisoning bacteria are odourless, colourless and tasteless, there are no clues to a harmful food. The only way to guard against foodborne illness is to handle foods safely in the first place.  Practice the following food safety tips to keep your family's foods safe to eat.

Keep it clean

  • Wash hands (for 20 seconds), utensils and cooking surfaces with soap and hot water before you handle food, repeatedly while preparing food, and again once you've finished. Use paper towels to wipe counters or change dishcloths daily to avoid the spread of bacteria. Avoid using sponges to clean surfaces since they're harder to keep clean.

  • Wash cutting boards with hot, soapy water after each use. Nonporous acrylic, plastic, or glass boards can be washed in a dishwasher. Once cutting boards become excessively worn or develop deep grooves, replace them.

  • Wash fresh vegetables and fruit with cool running water to remove dirt and residue. Before cutting, scrub fruits and vegetables that have firm surfaces or rinds such as carrots, oranges, melons and potatoes. And be sure to cut away damaged or bruised areas on produce - bacteria can thrive in these places.

  • Precut or pre-washed produce sold in sealed bags or in bulk should always be washed before using.


Avoid cross contamination

Bacteria can be unknowingly spread from food to people, people to food, or from one food to another. 

  • Separate raw meat, poultry and seafood from other foods in the refrigerator. Store in plastic bags or sealed containers on the lowest rack in the fridge to prevent juices from leaking onto other foods.

  • Use separate cutting boards and utensils for raw meats and vegetables. Never put cooked food on a dish that previously held raw food.

  • Do not use sauce that's been used to marinate raw meat, poultry or seafood on cooked foods. Boil leftover marinade for one minute or prepare extra for basting cooked food.


Cook it right

Prepare foods quickly, cook them thoroughly and serve immediately after cooking. Don't let foods linger at temperatures where bacteria can flourish [4°C (40°F) to 60°C (140°F)]. The food safety motto: keep hot foods hot and cold foods cold.

  • Use a digital instant-red meat thermometer to ensure foods are cooked to a safe temperature (see chart). Leave the thermometer in for at least 30 seconds, then take the temperature from the thickest part of meat, away from the bone.

  • Salmonella bacteria can grow inside fresh unbroken eggs. Cook eggs until the yolks and whites are firm, not runny. Don't use recipes in which eggs remain raw or only partially cooked.

Is it safe to eat?

Beef, pork, veal    71ºC (160ºF)
Chicken, turkey    80ºC (176ºF)

Rare    63ºC (145ºF)
Medium    71ºC (160ºF)
Well done    77ºC (170ºF)
Rolled beef roasts or steaks    71ºC (160ºF)

Pork chops    71ºC (160ºF)
Roasts    71ºC (160ºF)
Fresh cured ham    71ºC (160ºF)
Cooked ham (to reheat)    60ºC (140ºF)

Chicken, turkey - whole, stuffed    82ºC (180ºF)
Chicken - whole, unstuffed    82ºC (180ºF)
Turkey - whole, unstuffed    77ºC (170ºF)
Chicken, turkey - pieces    77ºC (170ºF)

Egg casseroles, sauces, custards    71ºC (160ºF)

Reheated    74ºC (165ºF)

Keep foods chilled

  • To keep foods safe when they're being stored, make sure your fridge is set at 4°C (40°F) or colder and the freezer at -18°C (0°F).

  • Refrigerate or freeze prepared food and leftovers within two hours. When you cook ahead of time, divide large portions of hot food into small, shallow containers to ensure safe, rapid cooling.

  • Don't overstuff the fridge. Cold air needs to circulate above and beneath food to keep it properly chilled.

  • Thaw foods in the fridge or in cold water. Use the defrost button on the microwave oven if you plan to cook the food immediately after thawing.

  • In hot weather (32°C or 90°F) don't leave foods sitting out for more than one hour. For temperatures that aren't quite as hot, don't keep foods out for longer than two hours. When in doubt, throw it out.


Picnic safely

  • Pack foods in a well-insulated cooler with plenty of ice or frozen gel packs. Pack foods first that you're likely to use last. Take two coolers - one for cold drinks and another for perishable foods so that warm air won't get into the perishables every time someone reaches for a drink.

  • Transport the cooler in the back seat of an air-conditioned car, not the hot trunk.

  • At the picnic or campsite, keep the cooler out of the sun; place it under a tree or cover it with a blanket or tarp.

  • When it comes time to cook, remove from the cooler only the amount of raw meat that will fit on the grill.

  • Bring hand soap and water to wash your hands before preparing foods and eating. If soap and water aren't available, pack disposable wipes or hand sanitizer.

  • Drink bottled water or tap water from a safe source. Purify water from lakes or streams even if the water looks clean. Water purification tablets and water filters are available at stores that sell camping gear and outdoor sporting goods.

For more food safety information (The Canadian Partnership for Consumer Food Safety Education) (The Partnership for Consumer Food Safety Information)  (Canadian Food Inspection Agency)

All research on this web site is the property of Leslie Beck Nutrition Consulting Inc. and is protected by copyright. Keep in mind that research on these matters continues daily and is subject to change. The information presented is not intended as a substitute for medical treatment. It is intended to provide ongoing support of your healthy lifestyle practices.