Food safety is in your hands

By Matt Houston

Every year, a total of about 4 million (or 1 in 8) Canadians are affected by food-borne illnesses. It’s a pretty high number, and reflects the fact that most of us have had a run-in with food poisoning at some point in our lives. It’s never a good time. A night spent moaning in the bathroom is never pleasant, and it can ruin your interest in the offending food for you for a long time. I know personally that if I ever got food poisoning from pizza, I'd wonder about how to go on in a cruel world where the sight of a sweet pizza pie makes me nauseous.

Luckily for us all, there is plenty of information around for how to avoid food borne illnesses. Most of tips are simple, involving proper temperature regulation and knowledge of shelf-life for certain foods.

With help from Health Canada’s food safety guidelines, I’ve compiled some excellent tips to keep you and your family safe when handling food in the kitchen:

Defrosting Meat

Usually, the best way to defrost meat is to put it in the fridge and let it thaw over a day or two. But we’ve all had those days when we come home and realize we forgot to take our frozen meat out, and we need it thawed ASAP. There are two safe methods of thawing things quickly: Cold water and the microwave.

Cold water method- Putting your frozen meat in a tub or sink full of cold water will thaw the meat quickly, without heating it to the point where the harmful bacteria inside activate.

Microwave method- Thawing in the microwave is the quickest option available. The usual rule is to use the defrost setting and to allow for seven to eight minutes per pound, and to cook it immediately once thawed. The cooking process will eliminate any harmful bacteria that may have activated. The only downside is that depending on the thickness of the meat, you may end up with the edges being cooked while the inside is still frozen, which can give you some odd textures when you eat.

Tools of the trade

Always be sure to use separate tools for vegetables and meats. This is especially important for things like cutting boards, tongs and knives. Anything that touches raw food should be properly sanitized before being used again.

Cooking temperatures

The best way to know if your food is cooked properly and to the rareness you enjoy is by using a digital food thermometer. Health Canada has a handy guide for internal cooking temperatures here. A thermometer lets you check the doneness without cutting into the meat, allowing you to keep it as juicy as possible.

Once it’s cooked, make sure to keep your food hot until you are ready to eat it, so nasty bacteria can’t start to grow.

Storing leftovers


Whenever you have leftovers, be sure to package them properly in an airtight container and refrigerate them as soon as possible. As a rule, you want your food to be in the fridge within two hours of cooking, and you want to be eating them within three to four days. If you won’t be eating them within that time frame, make sure you freeze it.

Scrub and wash your melons

While melons don’t naturally contain harmful bacteria, it is possible that their outer skin can become contaminated during the growing, storing and transportation processes. Cantaloupe is at the greatest risk because its rind is “netted” and can trap bacteria. Therefore, it’s important to wash and scrub the outside of the melon before cutting into it.

Handling Egg safely

Hey movie buffs: Remember in Rocky when he drank all those raw eggs? Well he’s pretty lucky that the next scene in didn’t show him being violently ill. Raw eggs can contain harmful bacteria, and it’s important that they reach an internal temperature of 74 degrees to ensure they are safe to eat. That’s why it’s also important to wash your hands and anything the raw eggs come into contact with thoroughly.

When using eggs for food that isn’t going to be heated, be sure to use pasteurized egg products instead of raw eggs themselves.

Be sure to share these tips with family and friends. And remember, food safety is in your hands!


Matt Houston is a Communications Officer at the Canadian Federation of Agriculture.