HealthLinkBC File #59a, February 2013
Food Safety: Easy Steps to Make Food Safe
- Wash Your Hands
- Wash and Sanitize Surfaces
- Prepare Food
- Cook It
- Cool It
- Thaw Foods Properly
- Reheating Food
- Microwave Cooking
- Avoid the Danger Zone
- Protect Your Foods
- If in Doubt, Throw it Out
- For More Information
Hundreds of British Columbians get sick from food poisoning every day. The symptoms of food poisoning include:
- stomach cramps;
- vomiting; and
The symptoms usually go away after 1 to 3 days. Health problems, and even death, may occur in serious cases of food poisoning. Follow these food safety rules to help prevent food poisoning.
Wash Your Hands
Harmful bacteria are everywhere. Bacteria can be picked up in many ways, such as, by petting your dog, handling your pet turtle, changing diapers or preparing raw foods, especially meats and poultry. Even healthy people can carry harmful bacteria and viruses.
It is essential to wash your hands properly after you use the washroom, and before you eat or handle food, particularly ready-to-eat food. Hand washing includes scrubbing all parts of your hands with soap for at least 20 seconds and rinsing them under warm water. Dry your hands with a clean cloth or paper towel.
Wash and Sanitize Surfaces
Always wash and sanitize surfaces where you prepare and place foods. Food poisoning is often caused by cross-contamination from the spread of food-borne bacteria from raw meat to other foods. This can occur when the same cutting board, plate or utensil used to prepare raw meat are then used to prepare other foods such as vegetables or ready-to-eat foods. Cutting boards, plates and utensils used to prepare raw meats must always be washed with hot soapy water and sanitized before being reused for any other foods. You can reduce the risk of cross contamination by using separate cutting boards, plates or utensils for raw meat and other foods.
Make sure to wash your hands with soapy water for at least 20 seconds immediately after handling raw meat. This will prevent bacteria transfer from your hands to other foods.
Remember, wash your dishcloths as well. Warm and damp dishcloths can be ideal breeding grounds for bacteria. They are often used to wipe contaminated and other surfaces. This spreads harmful bacteria to areas where foods are placed. Dishcloths must be washed well and sanitized regularly.
You can make a sanitizing solution as follows:
- Mix 15 milliliters (1 tablespoon) of household bleach into 4 litres (1 gallon) of water; or,
- Mix 5 milliliters (1 teaspoon) of household bleach into 1 litre (4 cups) of water.
Harmful bacteria and viruses can be spread from people to the food being prepared or handled. Some of these, such as Salmonella, Hepatitis A and E.coli are then passed on to people who eat the food and become ill. Any person who is ill, for example has symptoms of diarrhea or vomiting, or who has infected cuts or sores, should not handle food in any way.
Many foods may contain harmful bacteria, viruses and parasites. Meats, poultry, fish and eggs are some examples. Casseroles, pies, stews and other meals made with these foods can also be dangerous. Cook these foods properly before you eat them:
- Cook steaks, fish fillets and eggs to a minimum of 63°C (145°F).
- Cook mechanically tenderized cuts of beef products to 71°C (160°F).
- Cook pork and ground fish or meat to 71°C (160°F).
- Cook poultry, field dressed wild game, and stuffed meats to 74°C (165°F).
Always use a thermometer to check the temperature of the food. Insert a meat thermometer into the deepest part of the food without touching the bone, to make sure the proper cooking temperature has been reached.
Clean and sanitize your thermometer between temperature readings to avoid cross-contamination.
Improper cooling is one of the leading causes of food poisoning. Do not leave food to cool on the counter for longer than 2 hours. Large items such as roasts or soups are difficult to cool down quickly. Separate them into smaller portions no more than 7 centimeters (3 inches) thick, and place in the refrigerator or freezer within 2 hours.
Thaw Foods Properly
Do not leave food to thaw on the counter. Always thaw foods in the refrigerator, under cold running water, or in the microwave.
Cooking does not kill all harmful bacteria. After cooking, the remaining bacteria can grow rapidly when the food is cooling and being re-heated. You should reheat the food to at least 74°C (165°F).
Although microwave cooking is fast, the heat distribution is uneven. Cover foods with a microwave-safe lid or with microwave-safe plastic wrap to trap steam. Stir or rotate food in the microwave at least once during cooking to improve heat distribution.
Heat foods in the microwave to at least 14°C (25°F) higher than that recommended for conventional heating. Food reheated in microwave ovens should reach 88°C (190°F). Allow the foods to stand covered for 2 minutes afterwards to allow heat to distribute evenly in the food.
Avoid the Danger Zone
Harmful bacteria can grow rapidly between 4°C (40°F) and 60°C (140°F). Foods such as meat, poultry, dairy products, and eggs must be kept warmer than 60°C (140°F) or colder than 4°C (40°F).
Protect Your Foods
Transport and refrigerate your perishable food as quickly as possible. This helps prevent the growth of harmful bacteria. Cover or wrap ready-to-eat foods and store them in the fridge above uncooked foods. Always read the label for storage instructions.
If in Doubt, Throw it Out
Do not take chances with your food. Remember, contaminated foods may not look or smell bad so if in doubt, throw it out.
For More Information
For more information on food safety, visit the Canadian Partnership for Consumer Food Safety Education website at www.canfightbac.org/en/, or see the following HealthLinkBC Files:
- #59b Food Safety for Fresh Fruits and Vegetables
- #59c Food Safety: Instructions on Food Labels
- #76 Foods to Avoid for People at Risk of Food-borne Illness
- #85 Hand Washing for Parents and Children
For more HealthLinkBC File topics, visit www.HealthLinkBC.ca/healthfiles/ or your local public health unit.
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