Summer Food Safety 101

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The Issue
Summer is here, and more people are cooking outside to take advantage of the sunshine and the warm temperatures. But the hot, humid weather, coupled with more difficult access to refrigeration or washing facilities, creates the perfect conditions for the rapid growth of bacteria on food.

Every year in Canada, roughly one in eight Canadians (or four million people) get sick with food poisoning, also known as foodborne illness. Many cases of foodborne illness can be prevented by following proper food handling and preparation techniques. Although most people recover completely from foodborne illness, certain groups have a higher risk for serious health effects. These groups include pregnant women, children ages 5 and younger, adults 60 years old and older, and people with weakened immune systems.

What you should do
Learn about the symptoms of foodborne illness. The most common symptoms include stomach cramps, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, and fever. See a healthcare professional as soon as possible if you think you have a foodborne illness.

Follow these four steps when handing and preparing food: clean, separate, cook, and chill.

Step One - Clean:
Wash hands and surfaces often to avoid the spread of bacteria.

Wash your hands with warm water and soap, rinsing for at least 20 seconds, before handling food and after handling raw meat or poultry, using the bathroom, touching pets, or changing diapers. Alcohol-based hand cleansers are useful when soap and water are not available. In most cases antibacterial soap is not necessary for safe, effective hand hygiene.

Always wash raw fruits and vegetables with clean water. You cannot tell whether foods carry surface bacteria by the way they look, smell, or taste.

Step Two - Separate:
Keep raw meats, such as ground beef or pork, poultry, fish, and seafood separate from cooked or ready-to-eat foods to avoid cross-contamination.

When you pack a cooler for an outing, wrap uncooked meat, poultry, fish, and seafood securely and put them on the bottom to prevent raw juices from dripping onto other foods. Ideally, use a separate cooler for the raw foods.

Wash all plates, utensils, and cutting boards that touched or held raw meat, poultry, fish, or seafood before using them again for other foods. Wash hands after handling raw meat and wash the food thermometer (preferably a digital one) after each temperature reading.

Step Three - Cook:
Make sure you kill harmful bacteria by properly cooking food.

Checking the color is not a guarantee that food is properly cooked and safe to eat. Don't guess! Use a digital food thermometer to check when meat, poultry, fish, and seafood are safe to eat. Cooked foods are safe to eat when internal temperatures are as follows:

Beef, veal and lamb (pieces and whole cuts)
145 degrees for medium rare
160 degrees for medium
170 degrees for well done

158 degrees for fish
160 degrees for ground beef, veal, lamb, and pork
160 degrees for pork (both pieces and whole cuts)
165 degrees for shellfish, leftover food, and boned and deboned poultry parts
185 degrees for whole poultry

Step Four - Chill:
Keep cold food cold. Perishable foods that are normally in the refrigerator, such as luncheon meats, cooked meat, chicken, and potato or pasta salads made with mayonnaise must be kept in an insulated cooler with freezer packs or blocks of ice to keep the temperature at 40 degrees.

Keep the cooler out of direct sunlight and avoid opening it too often. Use separate coolers for food and drinks to keep the perishable food colder for longer because the cooler won't be opened as often. Put leftovers back in the cooler as soon as you are finished eating. On hot summer days, don't keep food unrefrigerated for more than one hour.

The simple rule is: When in doubt, throw it out!

For more information, visit:

Food Safety and You
Food Safety for Vulnerable Populations
Safe Internal Cooking Temperatures
Food Safety Tips for Barbecuing
Canadian Partnership for Consumer Food Safety Education
Estimates of Foodborne Illness in Canada - Public Health Agency of Canada

Source: Health Canada