4 Steps to Food Safety at Home

Food poisoning, a foodborne illness or food related illness, affects more than 4 million Canadians every year. People can experience symptoms such as nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, stomach pain and fever. It is common for people to recover quickly with no lasting complications, but in some cases, serious complications can occur, including death.

Did you know you cannot tell if food is unsafe by its smell or taste? If you’re cooking at home, when in doubt, throw it out!

Food poisoning is caused by food that is contaminated. Knowing how to properly clean, separate, cook,  and chill foods while handling and preparing them can help you prevent food poisoning.

CleanWash your hands and surfaces often

Washing your hands is one of the most important things you can do to prevent food poisoning.

  • Wash hands with warm soapy water for 20 seconds.
    • Before, during and after preparing food.
    • Before eating.
    • After touching raw meat, poultry, fish or seafood. 
    • After touching the garbage, or a pet.
    • After sneezing, changing a diaper or using the bathroom.

Wash surfaces with warm soapy water.

  • Utensils, cutting boards, and countertops.

Vegetables and fruits should be washed with water before consuming and/or peeling. Germs can spread from the outside to the inside as you cut or peel.

  • Wash vegetables and fruits under running water.
  • Use a vegetable brush for those with firm skin (e.g. carrots and melons).
  • Washing with soap is not recommended for these food items as they are porous and can absorb chemicals that are not intended for you to eat.

There is no need to wash meats, poultry or eggs.

  • Washing these may actually spread germs more because juices may splash onto your counter or sink.

Other things to keep in mind:

  • Avoid using sponges as they are harder to keep bacteria free. Choose dish clothes and wash them frequently.
  • Wash your reusable bags often.

Separate – Don’t cross-contaminate

Some foods are more associated with food borne illness and food poisoning than others. They can carry harmful germs that can make you very sick if the food is contaminated.

These foods can contaminate other foods such as ready to eat vegetables, fruits or other foods unless you keep them separate.

While at home, keep raw meat, poultry, and seafood separate from ready to eat foods

  • Use one cutting board for raw meat, poultry and seafood and a separate cutting board for ready to eat foods, including fruits and vegetables.
  • If you are using utensils for raw meat, poultry and seafood don’t use them again until you have thoroughly cleaned them with hot soapy water.
  • Use separate plates for raw and cooked meats, poultry and seafood.
  • Place raw meat, poultry, fish and seafood on the bottom shelf of your refrigerator so raw juices won’t drip onto other food.

When grocery shopping, keep raw meat, poultry, seafood, away from other foods.

Cook – To the right temperature

Food is safely cooked when the internal temperature gets high enough to kill germs that can make you sick. The only way to tell if food is safely cooked is to use a food thermometer. You can’t tell if food is safely cooked by checking its colour and texture.

  • Use a food thermometer to ensure foods are cooked to a safe internal temperature.
  • Insert the thermometer through the thickest part of the meat, all the way to the middle, not touching any bone. According to the Government of Canada, foods must reach:
    • 145°F for whole cuts of beef, veal, and lamb
    • 158°F for fish
    • 160°F for all pork
    • 160°F for ground beef and pork
    • 165°F for poultry, including ground chicken and turkey
      • 180°F for whole chicken
    • 165°F for shellfish 
      • Discard any that do not open when cooked

Keep in Mind: Do not eat hot dogs straight from the package. Hot dogs must be thoroughly cooked to a safe internal temperature.

Chill – Refrigerate promptly
It is important to keep cold food cold and hot food hot so that your food never reaches the temperature “danger zone” (between 4°C (40°F) and 60°C (140°F)), where bacteria can grow quickly.

  • Keep your refrigerator at 4°C or below and your freezer below 0°C. It is also important to know when to throw food out.

Refrigerate perishable food within 2 hours.

  • If outdoor temperature is above 32°C, refrigerate within 1 hour.
  • Store raw meat, poultry, fish and seafood in sealed containers or plastic bags on the bottom shelf of your refrigerator so raw juices won’t drip onto other food.

Thaw frozen raw meat, poultry, fish or seafood in the refrigerator, in a microwave or immersed in cold water. 

  • Don’t refreeze thawed food. You can refreeze partly defrosted food only if it still has ice crystals on its surface.
  • If raw meat is partly frozen when you cook it, it can lead to uneven cooking. This means certain parts of the meat may not reach the safe internal cooking temperature required to kill the bacteria.
  • Never thaw food on the counter because bacteria multiply quickly in the parts of the food that reach room temperature.

Keep in Mind: Marinate meat in the refrigerator, not on the counter and don’t use leftover marinade from the raw food on the cooked food.

Hospitality Services takes food safety very seriously and have vigilant measures in place to ensure you have a safe and enjoyable experience on campus! We hope these tips are helpful when preparing food at home.

For Further reading, visit:

FoodSafety.gov: Four steps to food safety

Health Canada: General food safety tips

Written by Christine Gemmell HBSc, DDEPT(c), Reviewed by Hospitality Services Registered Dietitian.

Christine is with Queen’s Hospitality for 6 weeks as a dietetic intern. She completed her Honors Bachelor of Science in Food and Nutrition at Brescia University College, and is currently completing her one year intensive practical training program to become a registered dietitian. Christine has a strong passion for sports nutrition and believes in the power of a positive relationship with food. Her dream is to work as an RD to educate, provide tools and help people live the lifestyle that best suites them.

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