Preventing food illness: how to handle, prepare and store food safely

According to the Government of Canada, every year, more than 4 million Canadians get food poisoning, and although most people recover with no lasting complications, older adults have a higher risk of hospitalization and death if they are infected with salmonella or Campylobacter. Prioritize the following safe food prep, handling, and storage guidelines to avoid harmful bacteria from spreading and causing foodborne illness.

Prepare your cooking environment

Cleanliness is an important factor in preventing food poisoning. Before preparing a meal, wash your hands and cooking surfaces with an antibacterial soap. When handling raw meat and poultry, wash your hands and any utensils immediately after to reduce the growth of bacteria and cross-contamination.  

Check expiration dates

After your surfaces have been prepped, review your food packages to ensure the expiry dates have not passed, unless they have been frozen before this date.

Handle food with care

Do you defrost meat over the counter, or wash poultry before cooking? While this is common practice amongst many Canadians, it can increase the risk of food poisoning. To safely defrost raw food, Health Canada recommends defrosting it in the refrigerator, microwave, or by putting the sealed package in a bowl of cold water. When preparing foods, such as produce, avoid soaking them in the sink as germs can be more easily transferred to your food. As an alternative, consider washing food under running water instead.

Cook food thoroughly

Cooking food correctly is the best way to make sure it is safe to eat. Using a food thermometer can help to ensure your meat, poultry and seafood are cooked thoroughly. Check out Health Canada's website for a helpful chart on cooking temperatures and consider using a digital thermometer for more accurate readings.

Store food and organize your fridge mindfully

Store food safely, and if you don’t intend to cook raw meat, poultry or seafood within two to three days after purchasing it, freeze it. Another measure you can take to protect yourself from food poisoning is to separate raw meat from vegetables when packing your groceries and organizing your fridge to avoid cross-contamination.

Most people will fully recover from foodborne illness or food poisoning; however, older adults are at greater risk for hospitalization and death, making it even more important to practice food safety. While there have been no confirmed cases of COVID-19 spreading through food, practicing food safety can lower your risk of infection and kill the virus that causes COVID-19. To learn more about this topic, read through our resources below.

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DISCLAIMER: Many of our Blog Posts were written before the COVID-19 pandemic and thus do not necessarily reflect the latest public health recommendations. While the content of these blogs identify activities that support optimal aging, it is important to defer to the most current public health recommendations such as social distancing and frequent hand washing. Some of the activities suggested within these blogs may need to be modified or avoided altogether to comply with current social distancing recommendations. To view the latest updates from the Public Health Agency of Canada, please visit their website

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