Frequently Asked Questions
What is food poisoning?
Most food poisoning is caused by bacteria. It can also be caused by :
- Toxins (or poisons) produced by certain kinds of bacteria
- Chemicals that may get into food
Although not traditionally considered a foodborne illness, allergens (like peanuts) in certain foods may also cause mild to severe reactions in some people.
You cannot see, smell or taste bacteria or other germs that can cause food poisoning.
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What are the symptoms of food poisoning?
Symptoms of food poisoning can include :
- Stomach cramps
Some times persons infected may not exhibit any symptoms. These asymptomatic individuals can still pass the disease on to others.
It is not always easy to tell if your symptoms have been caused by food because you can start feeling sick anywhere from hours to weeks after the food has been eaten.
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Who is most at-risk of getting food poisoning?
Food poisoning is often mild, but sometimes there can be long-term complications and even death.
People most likely to become very sick are :
- Young children
- Pregnant women
- People who are already unwell
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Are some foods riskier than others?
All foods can cause food poisoning if they aren’t properly handled. However, bacteria grow better in some foods than others. Foods that can support the growth of bacteria or other germs are considered high risk and need to be cooked to a high enough temperature for a long enough time and stored in the fridge or freezer.
Examples of high-risk foods include :
- Dairy products (milk, cream, cheese, yogurt, and products containing them such as cream pies and quiches)
- Meat or meat products
- Fish and seafood
Lower risk foods generally don’t need to be refrigerated (until opened) and tend to be high in sugar, salt or acid and/or low in water content.
Examples of low risk foods include :
- Fresh fruits and vegetables
- Most baked goods
- Jam and preserves
Lower risk foods such as fresh fruits and vegetables can still become contaminated through food handling or production processes so it’s important to wash fruits and vegetables thoroughly before eating them.
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What can I do to reduce the risk of food poisoning?
You can reduce the risk of food poisoning by following these four simple steps :
Wash your hands, utensils and surfaces with hot soapy water before, during and after preparing foods. Sanitize countertops, cutting boards and utensils with a mild bleach and water solution. Wash all produce thoroughly before eating or cooking.
Keep raw meats and poultry away from other foods during storage and preparation. Keep separate cutting boards for raw meats and vegetables. Always keep foods covered.
Cook food thoroughly – cooking times and temperatures vary for different meat and poultry. Prepare foods within two hours and serve immediately so foods don't linger at room temperatures where bacteria can grow.
Refrigerate or freeze perishables, prepared food and leftovers within two hours. Make sure the refrigerator is set at a temperature of 4°C (40°F) or colder, and keep the freezer at -18°C (0°F) or colder.
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How do I properly store, prepare, serve and handle food?
When you shop :
- Buy cold food last and get it home fast
- Take food straight home to the refrigerator. Never leave it in a hot car!
- Do not buy food in poor condition. Make sure refrigerated food is cold to the touch. Frozen food should be rock-solid. Canned goods should be free of dents, cracks or bulging lids.
When you’re storing food :
- Refrigerate your food. Check the temperature in your refrigerator with an appliance thermometer to make sure it’s at 4°C (40°F). Your freezer should be -18°C (0°F).
- Freeze fresh meat, poultry or fish immediately if you cannot use it within a few days.
- Put packages of raw meat, poultry or fish on plates before refrigerating.
When you’re preparing food :
- Thaw food in the refrigerator, microwave or oven or under cold running water. Never on the kitchen counter.
- Wash your hands in warm soapy water before preparing food
- Wash kitchen towels, sponges and cloths often.
- Keep raw meat, poultry and fish and their juices away from other food.
- Wash your hands, cutting board and knife in hot, soapy water after cutting up chicken and raw meat
- Never use utensils that have touched raw chicken or meat for other food.
- Marinate in the refrigerator.
When you're cooking :
- Cook your food thoroughly to kill harmful bacteria.
- You're taking chances when you eat meat, poultry or fish that’s raw or only partly cooked. Hamburger that is red in the middle as well as rare and medium-rare steak or roast beef is undercooked from the safety standpoint.
- Cook red meat and poultry to the right temperature. Red meat is done when it's brown or grey inside. Poultry is cooked when its juices run clear. Fish flakes with a fork. Use a meat thermometer to check that they're cooked all the way through.
- When you cook ahead, divide large portions of food into small, shallow containers for refrigeration to ensure safe, rapid cooling.
When you’re microwaving :
- Cover food with a lid or plastic wrap that is approved for microwaving. Leave a small section uncovered so steam can escape, and do not let the wrap touch the food.
- Stir and rotate food for even cooking. If there is no turntable in the oven, rotate the dish by hand once or twice during cooking.
- Observe the "standing" time called for in recipe or package directions. Food finishes cooking during the standing time.
- Use a meat thermometer to check that food is done. Insert it at several spots.
When you’re serving food :
- Never leave perishable food out of the fridge for more than two hours.
- Use clean dishes and utensils to serve food, never ones you used when preparing raw food.
- Pack lunches in insulated carriers with a cold pack.
- Carry picnic food in a cooler with a cold pack and if it’s possible keep the cooler in the shade. Keep the lid on as much as you can.
- Keep cold party food on ice or serve it on platters from the refrigerator.
- Divide hot party food into smaller serving platters. Keep platters refrigerated until it's time to warm them up for serving.
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How do I properly handle leftover food?
When you’re handling leftovers :
- Divide large amounts of leftovers into small, shallow containers for quick cooling in the refrigerator.
- Do not pack your fridge - cool air must circulate to keep food safe.
- Remove stuffing from stuffed poultry or meats and refrigerate it in a separate container.
- Heat other leftovers thoroughly to 74°C (165°F).
- Bring leftover sauces, soups and gravy to a boil.
- Microwave leftovers with an approved lid or plastic wrap for thorough heating.
- Never taste food that looks or smells strange.
- If you’re not sure how long food’s been in your fridge it’s best to follow the ‘when in doubt throw it out’ rule.
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Why is food safety important during pregnancy?
Foodborne illness affects everyone, but it can be more serious when you are pregnant. During pregnancy your body will change, including how your immune system works. These changes may make you more susceptible to food poisoning, and certain types of food poisoning may cause more serious illness during pregnancy. Food poisoning can also make your baby sick before and after being born.
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What should I eat during my pregnancy?
You should eat foods that are properly washed, stored and cooked to prevent food poisoning during your pregnancy. You should avoid foods that are considered high-risk for pregnant women.
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How can I prepare baby formula during a power failure?
Prepare only what your baby will drink in a day and keep it stored at cool temperatures. The safest temperature for bottles of prepared formula is 4°C or less. You should also :
Safe Water Supply
- Make sure you use a safe water supply to prepare formula and to clean baby bottles.
- If you’re not sure about the safety of your water, bring it to a rolling boil for at least 2 minutes before using. You may also use source such as commercially bottled water brought to a rolling boil for at least 2 minutes.
- Only feed your baby formula that’s at room temperature or not higher than body temperature (37°C / 98°F).
- Use a heat source to warm the formula to the required temperature. Some bottle warmers have adapters to use in a car lighter socket.
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How can I keep food safe during a power failure?
Food in your refrigerator :
- Keep the fridge door closed to maintain the temperature inside. Without power, the refrigerator section will keep foods cool for 4-6 hours - if the door is kept closed.
- If possible, add bags of ice to the refrigerator to keep temperatures cooler for a longer period.
- Throw out perishable foods such as meat, fish, poultry, eggs and leftovers that have been at temperatures above 4°C for more than two hours.
- If you’re not sure whether an item is spoiled, play it safe and throw it out.
- Throw out any food that is off-colour or has an off odor as soon as possible.
- Contact your doctor or pharmacist for information about proper storage of medication that requires refrigeration, such as insulin.
Food in your freezer :
- Keep the freezer door closed to maintain the temperature inside.
Without power, an upright or chest freezer that is completely full will keep food frozen for about two days. A half-full freezer will keep food frozen for one day.
- If possible, add bags of ice to the freezer to help to keep the temperatures cooler for a longer period of time.
- If the power is going to be off for an extended period of time, consider storing food in a friend’s or neighbour’s freezer.
- Foods that have thawed in the freezer may be re-frozen if they still contain ice crystals or are at 4°C or below.
- Discard any items in either the freezer or the refrigerator that have come into contact with raw meat juices.
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