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Canada's food supply is more abundant, wholesome and safe than it has ever been before. A dedicated team of farmers, government inspectors and food processors ensures that food is safe and of the highest quality. Careful handling of food in the home keeps it safe.
Whether you are an employee in a restaurant, a member of a local catering group or preparing food for your family, the way YOU handle food affects the health of those who eat it.
Food-borne illness is caused by eating food that contains harmful bacteria, viruses, parasites or fungi. They are called pathogens and they can be found in the house, on pets, on raw foods, on your hands and in your nasal passages. Some are helpful and give cheese and yogurt their characteristic flavours. Others can cause serious illness. All pathogens need food, warmth, moisture and time to grow and multiply before they can cause an illness. One hundred bacteria can become one million in just 3½ hours at room temperature.
The temperature danger zone is between 4°C and 60°C. Bacteria grow best in this temperature range. One bacterium can double every 15 minutes at room temperature and become 4 million bacteria in only 8 hours. At refrigerator temperatures, growth is slower and one bacterium doubles itself in 6-8 hours. Check to be sure that the refrigerator is set at 4°C (40°F). At temperatures over 60°C (140°F) bacteria are killed.
The symptoms of food-borne illness are usually the same as those for the flu: cramps, diarrhea, vomiting, fever and/or headache. Illness can occur 3 hours after eating or up to 2 weeks later. If food-borne illness is suspected, it is important to get in touch with a physician and the public health department. Those at most risk of food-borne illness are the very young, the frail elderly, pregnant women and those with weakened immune systems.
Wash your hands with soap and water for at least 20 seconds to loosen germs. Then rinse thoroughly. Be sure to clean around fingernails and creases where microorganisms build up. Dry hands with a dry paper towel or clean cloth towel. Keep towels for drying hands away from those for drying dishes.
Wash your hands frequently and especially:
Be careful of jewelry - it may carry bacteria to the food. If a trip to the refrigerator or a telephone call interrupts food preparation, wash your hands before touching those objects and before continuing to handle food. Bacteria can be transferred from your mouth to your hands if you are eating or smoking while preparing food. Always wash your hands after sneezing, blowing your nose or wiping a child's nose.
Don't allow anyone with an infectious disease (flu or cold) or infected cut to work with food. Bacteria causing the infection may be passed to the food. Wear rubber gloves over a cut when cooking. Gloved hands can pick up bacteria too, so wash them or put on a new pair of disposable gloves as often as you would wash your bare hands.
Anyone working with food should have clean hands, fingernails, hair and clothing. Long hair should be tied back so that it doesn't come in contact with food and loose hairs don't fall into the food. Avoid using your hands to mix foods when clean utensils can be used instead.
Keep your hands away from your mouth, nose and hair. Cover coughs and sneezes with disposable tissues. Bacteria called Staphylococcus aureus are often expelled into the air during coughing and sneezing. As these bacteria grow in numbers, they produce a toxin (a poison) that is not destroyed by heating and may cause food-borne illness. Other types of bacteria such as Shigella, E.coli and Campylobacter need only 10, 100 or 500 (respectively) organisms to cause illness.
Pets are not allowed in restaurants and should not be around the food-preparation area in the home. Dogs, cats, birds and especially turtles may contain bacteria that can pass from hands (yours or your children's) to food. Be sure to wash your hands well after handling pets.
Thaw foods in the refrigerator. Surface bacteria begin to multiply as soon as the surface of the defrosting food begins to warm. Thawing in the refrigerator prevents this warming and also saves the quality and nutrients. Allow 12 to 15 hours per pound (26-33 hr/kg) of meat or chicken and 5 hours per pound (10 hr/kg) of turkey. Cook within 48 hours of thawing. If it won't be eaten, cook and freeze it. Never refreeze thawed raw meat. Defrost frozen whole poultry in cold water. Allow one hour per pound defrosting time. If using a microwave for thawing, be sure to cook the food right away.
Steaks and roasts can be cooked from the frozen state. Increase cooking time by 50%.
Never stuff poultry ahead of time. The stuffing for turkey or chicken is a perfect place for bacteria to grow; it is warm, moist and low in acid. If stuffing is made in advance, store it in a separate bowl in the refrigerator. Stuff just before roasting and pack loosely so it cooks thoroughly. The minimum temperature for the stuffing should be 165 degrees Fahrenheit or 74 degrees Celsius.
When making custard sauces, chill them quickly; place containers in ice cold water, stir frequently and then refrigerate. Because raw eggs can contain bacteria, special precautions should be taken when serving eggs to young children, pregnant women, the elderly and those with a weakened immune system. They should avoid eating foods with raw eggs (homemade Caesar dressing, raw cookie dough, hollandaise sauce and eggnog).
Refrigerate leftovers within 2 hours of preparation in small, covered, shallow containers to speed cooling. Large pots of chili and soup can take hours or days to chill properly. Zipper type plastic bags allow food to cool quickly because they allow a large, flat surface exposed to refrigerated air. Leave space between containers to allow cooling air to circulate. Leftovers should be eaten within 4 days. Reheat to at least 74°C (165°F). Heat soups and gravies to a rolling boil. If leftovers are uneaten after being reheated, discard them.
For more information, contact your MAFRD GO Office.