Food safety basics

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Learn how to prepare, store and cook food safely to minimize the risk of food-borne illness.

Key points

  • Follow proper handwashing recommendations and prepare your cooking space.
  • Keep food chilled at 4 °C (40 °F) or lower to reduce the risk of food poisoning.
  • Refrigerate or freeze all perishables, prepared food and leftovers within two hours of buying or cooking them.
  • Follow Health Canada guidelines for cooking, chilling and storing meats properly.

Being informed about the nutrients in your foods will help you to provide a healthy diet for your family, but it is also important to prepare and store food safely to minimize bacteria and any food-borne illness.

Washing hands

Washing your hands is the crucial first step in keeping food safe. Doing this properly, for 20 seconds, removes almost half of all causes of foodborne illness.

Always wash hands:

  • Before preparing food
  • After touching raw meat, poultry, fish or seafood
  • After using the washroom
  • After handling pets
  • After sneezing or coughing

Preparing your cooking space

Wash cutting boards, dishes, utensils and counter tops with hot soapy water before, during and after each use.

Use separate utensils and equipment (e.g., cutting boards) for raw foods.

Chilling food

Keep food chilled at 4 °C (40 °F) or lower. Cold temperatures prevent most harmful bacteria from growing and reduce the risk of food poisoning.

There are two key tips for keeping your food chilled:

  • Follow the two-hour rule
  • Store meats at the right temperature for the right amount of time

Two-hour rule

Under the "two-hour rule", you should refrigerate or freeze all perishables (fresh food that can go bad) within two hours of buying or preparing them. If the weather is hot (warmer than 32 °C), chill or freeze the food within one hour. When you go grocery shopping, buy cold and frozen food last.

Storing meat

It is essential to chill meats promptly. It is also important to store raw meat, poultry, fish and seafood separately from other foods.

The table below shows how long you can safely store different types of meat.

Note: Count the days listed in this table from the date the meat was 'packaged on' (as shown on the label) or the date it was bought if it is from a butcher.

Ground meats1-2 days2-3 months
SeafoodLean fish: 3-4 days
Fatty fish: 3-4 days
Shellfish: 12-24 hours
6 months
2 months
2-4 months
Variety meats (such as liver, kidney, heart)1-2 days3-4 months
Cured or smoked meat6-7 days1-2 months
Chicken or turkey (whole or pieces)2-3 daysWhole: 12 months
Pieces: 6 months
Steaks, roasts, chopsChops, steaks: 2-3 days
Roasts: 3-4 days
Beef: 10-12 months
Lamb, pork, veal: 8-12 months
Meats, fish or poultry3-4 daysMeat: 2-3 months
Fish, poultry: 4-6 months
Cold cuts (open package)3-5 days1-2 months
Casseroles, meat pies, meat sauce2-3 days3 months

Cooking hazardous foods

Some foods have a minimum internal cooking temperature that is required to kill the harmful microorganisms that can cause food poisoning.

Use a clean food thermometer to determine whether the food is at a safe temperature. Insert the thermometer through the thickest part of the food, to the middle. It should not be touching bones.

The table below includes safe minimum cooking temperatures.

FoodMinimum internal cooking temperature
Whole poultry82°C
Ground poultry, poultry products, poultry pieces74°C
Food mixtures containing poultry, eggs, meat, fish or other hazardous food74°C
Pork, pork product, ground meat other than ground poultry71°C

You can find more tips from the article Food poisoning: Protecting your family.

Last updated: September 17th 2021