Food safety basics
Food sickness is caused by bacteria, viruses and parasites which we sometimes group together and collectively call “germs”. They are so small that, most of the time, you can’t see, smell or taste them. If food safety practices are not followed harmful germs can grow or be transferred to other foods and make the food not safe to eat.
Not all germs are bad; in fact, germs are naturally present on many foods. An example of good germs is the bacteria that turn milk into yogurt.
Four steps to prevent food sickness
The four most important things you can do to prevent food sickness are -- clean, separate, cook and chill.
Clean your hands by washing with warm water and soap for 20 seconds before preparing food.
- 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: All fresh vegetables and fruits need to be washed, before preparing or serving. Gently rub vegetables and fruits under running water. There is no need for special soaps. Vegetables and fruit with a rough skin, like potatoes and cantaloupe, should be scrubbed with a brush.
Clean surfaces: Surfaces like table tops, counter tops and cutting boards should be washed with warm water and soap, and then air dried.
Clean dishes: Wash dishes by hand.
- Very hot water can burn your skin. Use rubber gloves when you wash dishes by hand.
- Use clean dish towels and dish cloths
- Allow dishes to air dry, if possible.
- Have separate dish towels for dish drying and hand drying. Try to have them clearly identified, either by placing them in different locations in the kitchen or by using a different colour or style for the hand drying towels.
- If dishes are to be towel dried, a clean towel is needed each time.
- Have clean dish cloths and brushes that are used for dishwashing only.
- Sponges are not recommended for washing dishes or cleaning surfaces.
- Use separate cutting boards for fresh produce and raw meat, fish, poultry, and seafood. Don’t cut vegetables on the same cutting board where raw meat, fish, poultry or seafood was cut.
- If you don’t have separate cutting boards, wash them with warm soapy water after cutting meat, fish, poultry or seafood.
- DO NOT place cooked meat or fish back onto the same plate or container that held the raw meat, unless the container has been completely washed.
- Don’t allow raw meat, poultry, and seafood to touch other foods.
- Harmful germs can live on some foods if they aren’t cooked properly.
- Store-bought meats and chicken should always be cooked so that the internal temperature is high enough to kill germs.
- Use a meat thermometer to tell when meats are cooked enough to kill the germs. Sauces made with meats should also be checked.
Avoid the DANGER ZONE. Germs grow quickly at temperatures between 4°C (40°F) and 60°C (140°F).
Put meats, milk, yogurt, cheese, eggs, and prepared food in the fridge or freezer within 1-2 hours of buying them.
Put leftovers in the fridge within 2 hours of serving.
Keep the fridge at 4°C (40°F) or below.
Don’t over-fill the fridge or freezer.
Set the freezer at or below -18°C (0 °F).
Never thaw food at room temperature – there are 3 safe ways to thaw food:
- Place on plate in bottom of refrigerator.
- Place in cold water, change water every 30 minutes.
- Thaw in microwave, then cook right away.
Know your foods
When it comes to food sickness, not all foods are the same.
Perishable foods are more likely to cause food sickness, if not handled properly. Some examples are:
- Meats, fish, chicken and seafood
- Milk, yogurt and cheese
- Fresh fruits and vegetables
Non-perishable foods are not likely to cause food sickness. They don’t need cold storage, when they are unopened. These are foods like cereal, crackers, canned food and dried or cured foods.
“Best before” and other dates on food packages
The “best before” date gives you information about the amount of time a packaged food will keep its original quality and nutritional value, while unopened. It is not an indicator of food safety.
A “best before” date must appear on pre-packaged foods that will keep fresh for 90 days or less. But it can also appear on foods that will stay fresh for longer than 90 days. The date can appear anywhere on a package. The year is optional. If the year is included, it must appear first, followed by the month, and then the day:
For example, "Best before 13 JA 22 Meilleur avant".
Month symbols: January is JA; February is FE; March is MR; April is AL, May is MA; June is JN; July is JL; August is AU; September is SE; October is OC; November is NO; December is DE.
Past the “best before” date?
You can buy and eat foods after the “best before” date has passed. Remember, “best before” dates are not indicators of food safety. Unopened packages of non-perishable foods, such as cereal, crackers, muffin mixes and flour, that are past their “best before” date, do not need to be thrown out!
A perishable food can be unsafe even before its “best before” date, if it has not been handled properly. For example, if milk has not been properly stored, it may be sour and should be thrown out. If eggs smell bad, they should be thrown out. Don’t buy cartons of eggs that have cracked eggs in them. Eggs that have been properly stored can be kept for 3 weeks after their “best before” date.
More tips and information
The following web page has lots more information about food safety and safe food preparation: