What is Food Safety?

woman checking the temperature of the meat

Food safety is about properly handling, storing, cooking and reheating food to prevent contamination of food and foodborne illnesses. All foods can become contaminated, but higher risk foods include meat, poultry, fish, eggs, cheese, dairy products, raw sprouts, and cooked rice. Taking proper food safety measures ensures that the food you prepare is safe to eat.

Foodborne Illness

  • If food becomes contaminated by bacteria, viruses or parasites it can cause foodborne illness, sometimes called food poisoning.
  • Symptoms may include stomach cramps, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, and fever.
  • Young children, pregnant women, older adults and those with underlying health conditions are at higher risk of foodborne illness.
  • You can prevent foodborne illness by following these food safety tips:  clean, separate, cook and chill.

Image of the word clean that looks like the word is sparkling.




Clean – Wash hands and surfaces often to avoid the spread of bacteria

  • Wash your hands with soap and warm water before handling food and after handling raw meat or poultry or their packaging.
  • Wash dishes, cutting boards and counters with hot soapy water and sanitize using a mild bleach solution (1 teaspoon bleach per 4 cups of water).
  • If you have been vomiting or have diarrhea, do not handle food until at least 24 hours after symptoms have stopped.

Image of the word Separate that is split horizontally with half orange and half green text.




Separate – Keep raw foods separate from cooked foods to avoid cross-contamination

  • Store raw meat, poultry and seafood on the bottom of the fridge to prevent juices from dripping onto other foods.
  • Use separate cutting boards for raw meat, vegetables and ready-to-eat foods if possible
  • Use a clean plate to bring cooked meat in from the barbeque.

Image of the word cook with flames coming out of the top of the letters.




Cook – Make sure you kill harmful bacteria by properly cooking food

  • Use a food probe thermometer to measure the internal temperature of cooked foods such as meat, poultry, and fish
  • Push the thermometer into the thickest section of the meat you are cooking, but make sure that it is not touching bone, fat or gristle
    • Whole poultry and the stuffing – 82°Celsius (180°Fahrenheit)
    • Chicken pieces and ground chicken – 74°Celsius (165°Fahrenheit)
    • Food mixtures with meat, eggs or fish – 74°Celsius (165°Fahrenheit)
    • Other meat – 71°Celsius (160°Fahrenheit)
  • Wash, rinse and sanitize the food probe thermometer between uses
  • Keep hot food hot above 60°Celsius (140°Fahrenheit) until it is served
  • Reheat food to the original cooking temperature.

But don’t overcook…

  • When you are barbecuing, choose leaner cuts of meat and cook at medium, not high temperature. This reduces the risk of harmful chemicals in the smoke from contaminating your food. Likewise, charred or blackened foods aren’t healthy and can be avoided by lower temperature cooking.

Image of the word chill with icicles dangling off the top of the blue letters.




Chill – Keep cold food cold, at or below 4°Celsius (40°Fahrenheit)

  • Thaw meat in the refrigerator, microwave, or under cold running water – not at room temperature.
  • Never let meat or poultry sit out at room temperature or in the sun for longer than two hours.
  • Refrigerate or freeze leftovers within two hours

You can’t always tell that food is contaminated by its appearance, taste or smell.  Follow the simple rule: when in doubt, throw it out.

What role does the Perth District Health Unit have for food safety?

Public Health Inspectors at the Perth District Health Unit work with food premises operators in restaurants, long-term care homes and daycares to ensure that the food they prepare and serve is safe. Inspectors can also be contacted for general food safety information.

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