Food Safety Basics

Food safety is the things we can do to prevent foodborne illness. Foodborne illness happens when we get sick from food going bad or from harmful bacteria, viruses, or parasites that can contaminate food. Bacteria, viruses, and parasites are so small that we can't see, smell, or taste them. And not all bacteria, viruses, and parasites are harmful.

Perishable foods

Know about foods. When it comes to food sickness, not all foods are the same. If you do not handle and store perishable foods properly, they are more likely to cause food sickness. Some examples of perishable foods are:

  • Meat, fish, poultry, and seafood—raw or cooked
  • Milk, yogurt, cheese, sour cream, and other dairy products
  • Eggs—raw or cooked
  • Fresh fruit and veggies

Non-perishable foods are not likely to cause food sickness. They do not need cold storage when unopened. Some never need cold storage—foods such as cereal, crackers, and flour; dry beans, peas, and rice—uncooked; nuts, seeds, or dried fruit; and oils and vinegars. Some need cold storage after you open them—foods such as jams and jellies, salad dressings and mayonnaise, etc. Usually a label tells you to 'store in the fridge after opening'.

The basics of food safety are how we handle, cook, and store food to stay safe. When we follow food safety basics, the harmful bacteria, viruses, and parasites cannot grow and our food is safe to eat.

Key words to remember to promote food safety: clean, separate, cook, chill.


Clean hands—wash with warm water and soap for 20 seconds.
  • Before and after handling food
  • After using the washroom
  • After coughing, sneezing or using a tissue
  • After smoking
  • After handling raw meats, dirty dishes, chemicals, garbage, or trash
  • After touching your hair or face
Clean food
  • Wash all fresh fruit and veggies before serving raw or preparing for cooking. Gently rub them under running water. There is no need for special soaps.
  • Use a brush to scrub fruit and veggies with a rough skin—such as potatoes and cantaloupe.
Clean surfaces
  • Wash tables, counters, and cutting boards with warm water and soap; then air dry.
  • Use a clean cloth not a sponge.
Clean dishes—hand washing
  • Use rubber gloves. Hot water can burn your skin.
  • Use clean dishcloths and brushes only to wash dishes. Do not use a sponge.
  • Allow dishes to air dry, if possible. If you dry dishes with a towel, use a clean one each time.
  • Use separate towels to dry dishes and hands. To keep them separate, use a different colour or style, or put them in different places.
  • Have two cutting boards—one for fruits and veggies and a different one for meat, fish, poultry, and seafood.
  • If you do not have two, wash the cutting board with warm soapy water after each time you use it.
  • Put cooked meat, poultry, or fish on a different plate or container than what held the raw meat. Or wash the container first with hot water and soap.
  • Keep raw meat, poultry, and seafood away from other foods. Do not let them touch.
  • Cook meat, poultry, and fish so the internal temperature is high enough to kill harmful germs. Use a meat thermometer.
  • Check soups, stews, and sauces made with raw meat, poultry, or fish (spaghetti sauce, chilli, chowder).
  • Avoid the DANGER ZONE. Germs grow quickly at temperatures between 4 °C (40 °F) and 60 °C (140 °F).
  • Put perishables in the fridge or freezer within 1 to 2 hours of when you buy them. Perishables include raw or cooked meat, poultry, and fish; milk, yogurt, cheese, eggs, and other dairy; some veggies and fruit; etc.
  • Put leftovers in the fridge within two hours of serving them.
  • Keep the fridge at or below 4 °C (40 °F) or below.
  • Set the freezer at or below -18 °C (0 °F).
  • Do not over-fill the fridge or freezer.
  • Use one of three safe ways to thaw food—never thaw food at room temperature
    • Place on a plate in the bottom of the fridge.
    • Place in cold water and change water every 30 minutes.
    • Thaw in a microwave; then cook right away.

For more info about food safety and safe food preparation, please visit: Governement of Canada: Food safety