Respect bacteria that live on your food
Why some foods require careful handling. Animal-sourced products (dairy, meats) and many liquids, baked goods, and other items at room temperature are great surfaces for growing bacteria, viruses, and parasites. With no extreme heat or cold to slow down cellular division, these micro-organisms thrive, and some are harmful for humans.
Sources of a food-borne illness. Food poisoning is any food-bourne illness, caused by harmful microbial contaminants in raw foods and their juices. You may not have symptoms, but many people experience vomiting, abdominal cramps, or nausea within hours or days after ingesting the same contaminated food. Most people recover completely, but in some cases effects linger or lead to further illness. Individuals with a weakened immune system – such as diabetics, older adults, and children under 5 are at increased risk. Use care when preparing and storing foods for yourself and others.
Examples of risks related to the immune system. For diabetics, any unexpected illness may disrupt blood glucose levels. Try to prevent unnecessary influences when possible. Same goes for older adults – quality of food is paramount. Regardless of age and health status, stale and improperly-stored food is simply less tasty and may pose health risks.
Simple habits to improve health
Minimize risks while shopping. To preserve the best flavour and safety while shopping, pick up refrigerated and frozen items last, and put them away first when you get home. Keep cold items separated from warmer items in your cart. Avoid bruised fruits and vegetables. Bacteria thrive on moist nutrient-rich surfaces.
Focus on date and temperature. Discard any perishable food that is past the “Best By” date marked on its package. Ensure your fridge temperature is 4 °C (40 °F) or below, and freezer is -18 °C (0 °F) or colder. While you’re at the fridge, ensure vulnerable moist and meaty/dairy foods don’t contaminate other fridge contents by storing each item in a container. Clean containers with hot soapy water before re-use.
Taste and nutritional quality changes over time. As food at room temperature is consumed for energy by micro-organisms, the remaining food product is changed. It may be left brittle and moist. This process of consumption and waste production often causes a change in taste and smell.
Concern yourself with safety over appearance. Smells, bruising, and taste are not reliable signs of food safety. Adhere to recommended storage methods and times posted by reputable health agencies, and don’t rely on colloquial rules of thumb not based on food facts. Store vulnerable items in the back of the fridge where it’s coldest, not in the door, and place items that may drip (such as meats and sliced fruit) at the bottom, where contaminated liquids can’t drip onto other food.
Be aware of different viewpoints. Outside the U.S. and Canada, milk is pasteurized with a higher-temperature process, so milk lasts longer, and without refrigeration. Milk storage times are much shorter in the U.S. and Canada.
Here are a few important tips to handle foods safely:
- Meats: maximum two hours out of the fridge, including time coming home from the store and cooling off after cooking
- Milk: return to fridge quickly after use; discard served contents (don’t pour warm material from a serving container back into the original, colder container); store in coolest part of fridge (ie. not the door) between 0 and 4 °C
- Cooking: find correct cooking temperatures for different types of meats and recipes in a quality cookbook, and wash hands 20 seconds with warm soapy water after handling meats, eggs, and any uncooked mixes that contain them
- Surfaces: clean counters and cutting boards with sanitizing kitchen cleaner before and after contact with food; use one cutting board and knife for produce, and another for meats
- Handy information: Consult the Government of Canada’s handy chart of recommended storage times; it will encourage you to understand the need for safe food handling, and lists storage recommendations for many items
- Example: the current recommended safe storage time for raw beef and pork in the fridge is 2-4 days, and for opened milk is 3 days
Keep learning and enjoy the rewards of safe and healthy food habits!