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Safe Food Handling

When handling food, you need to be food safe. Food safety is about properly handling, storing, cooking and reheating food to prevent contamination and foodborne illness.

Many foodborne illnesses can be prevented by following these safe food-handling practices: 


Micro-organisms can spread throughout the food preparation area and get on hands, cutting boards, knives and counter tops. Frequent cleaning can keep this from happening. Proper hand washing is one of the most important things you can do to prevent food borne illness. Proper cleaning of food items, food preparation utensils and surfaces are also key preventative activities.

Thoroughly washing hands, using warm soapy water, may eliminate nearly half of all cases of food borne illness.

Hand washing with soap and water is preferred over alcohol based hand sanitizer in food premise areas.

Wash your hands:

  • When you arrive at work
  • Before preparing, serving or eating food items and particularly after handling raw meats, poultry and raw vegetables
  • After handling dirty dishes
  • After you have been to the washroom
  • After sneezing, coughing or blowing your nose
  • After mopping the floor or any other cleaning duty
  • After handling chemicals
  • After handling any animals

When preparing and serving food:

  • Use proper utensils to handle food instead of direct contact with your hands.
  • Keep your fingernails short and free from polish. Use a nailbrush to remove any microorganisms under the nails. Do not share nailbrushes.
  • Remove jewellery from your hands and wrists. Jewellery can trap dirt and pathogens. You may unknowingly lose a piece of jewellery in the food.
  • Wipe your hands with disposable paper towels. If you wipe your hands on a cloth or clothing you could end up transferring dirt and bacteria back onto your hands.
  • Do not use gloves in place of proper hand washing.

If you have vomiting or diarrhea, don't handle food until at least 24 hours after your symptoms have stopped.

  • Before handling any foods, wash your hands with soap and water. Dry with a paper towel.
  • After removing and discarding the outer leaves of vegetables such as lettuce or cabbage, wash your hands again.
  • Wash all fruits and vegetables including those that you peel or cut, like melons and oranges.
  • Wash all fruits and vegetables thoroughly in running water that is safe to drink. Use a clean colander or clean sink. Do not use soap or detergent, as they may be absorbed into the food.
  • Use running water to rinse the fruits and vegetables. Do not soak lettuce or cabbage leaves in a sink of water.
  • Use a clean brush to scrub the outside of melons, potatoes, carrots and any other vegetables or fruit that have hard surfaces. Use the brush while rubbing the food item under cold running water.
  • Cut away any damaged or bruised areas as harmful bacteria can live in these areas.
  • Wash, rinse and sanitize the knife, cutting boards and surfaces after slicing produce.
  • Always place washed produce in a clean container.
  • Store fresh fruits and vegetables in the refrigerator at 4℃ (40℉) within two hours of peeling or cutting. Discard the food if it is left at room temperature for two hours or more.

Food is easily contaminated, therefore it is essential that all the equipment and utensils, particularly those that come in contact with food, be regularly cleaned and sanitized. Effective cleaning and sanitizing requires that visible soil be removed and microorganisms, which are invisible be destroyed.

Cleaning and sanitizing are two separate steps.

  1. Cleaning – removes food, dirt and soil and prepares equipment and surfaces for sanitizing.
  2. Sanitizing – reduces the number of micro-organisms to safe level and destroys all micro-organism and spores.

Before using any commercial sanitizer, read the label carefully and follow the manufacturer’s instructions. If you have any questions regarding the suitability of a product, contact us for recommendations.

  • Wash dishcloths with hot soapy water after each use.
  • Change dishcloths, aprons and towels often.

How sanitizer and contact time work

Sanitizers are generally chemicals which kill organic material, especially bacteria and viruses. There are many different types available. Different products claim different levels of effective “kill”. The ability for a disinfectant to “kill” depends on the strength of chemical and the amount of contact time it has with the surface. Contact times generally ranges between 45 seconds to 10 minutes.

Storage and testing

  1. Keep your sanitizer stored in a locked cupboard away from heat, sunlight and out of the reach of children.
  2. Ensure all bottles containing sanitizer are properly labelled.
  3. Test your sanitizer daily using paper test strips to ensure your solution has the proper strength.

Using sanitizers

Counters, trays, food contact surfaces, lunch tables and chairs should be cleaned using the following method:

  1. Wash with warm soapy water.
  2. Rinse with hot clean water.
  3. Apply the sanitizer (contact time will depend on manufacturer’s instructions).
  4. Rinse sanitizer with clean water as per manufacturer’s instructions.

To make sanitizer for home use, you can use chlorine (bleach)

  • 2.5 ml (½ tsp) of bleach to 4 cups of water
  • Minimum contact time: 45 seconds

Quaternary Ammonium (Quat)

Most commercial disinfectants are quat-based. Read the label on all products; follow the manufacturer’s instructions for use and ensure it is safe to use on food contact surfaces, such as counters and cutting boards. 


Cook food to the appropriate temperature. A food thermometer must be used to measure the internal temperature of cooked foods. Food is safely cooked when it reaches a high enough internal temperature to kill the harmful bacteria that causes illnesses.

  • Partially cooking meat, poultry, seafood to reduce future cooking time is not recommended. If you must prepare food ahead for a later time or the following day, always thoroughly cook food to its required final cooking temperature. Once cooked it can be properly cooled and stored.
  • Bring sauces, soups and gravy to a boil when reheating.
  • Use a probe thermometer to check the internal temperature of the food you prepare.

Recommended cooking temperatures
Food type Action required
Poultry, whole (chicken, turkey) Cook to an internal temperature of 82°C (180°F) for at least 15 seconds

Poultry pieces or ground poultry 

Cook to an internal temperature of 74°C (165°F) for at least 15 seconds

Stuffing in Poultry

Cook to 74°C (165°F) for at least 15 seconds

Food mixtures

Containing poultry, eggs, meat, fish or other potentially hazardous food

Cook to an internal temperature of 74°C (165°F) for at least 15 seconds

Reheated food (leftovers)

Reheat to original cook temperature for at least 15 seconds, except whole chicken can be reheated to 74°C (165°F) for at least 15 seconds

Pork, Lamb, Veal, Beef (whole cuts)

Cook to an internal temperature of 71°C (160°F) for at least 15 seconds

Ground meat

Cook to 71°C (160°F) for at least 15 seconds


Cook to 70°C (158°F) for at least 15 seconds


Cook to 74°C (165°F) for at least 15 seconds

Cold holding

4°C (40°F) or less

Hot holding

60°C (140°F) or more


-18°C (0°F) 


Store food in the cold. Bacteria multiply fastest at temperatures between 4℃ (40℉) and 60℃ (140℉). This temperature range is known as the Danger Zone.

Many food borne illnesses are the result of time and temperature abuse.

  • Improper internal temperature (whether hot held or cold held) of food 
  • Inadequate cooking temperature
  • Improper thawing
  • Preparation of food items left at room temperature for extended periods of time
  • Inadequate holding of heat
  • Inadequate cooling
  • Inadequate reheating

Food products that can support bacterial growth such as meat, poultry, fish, dairy products, gravies and custards are capable of supporting the growth of pathogenic organisms. These kinds of foods are called potentially hazardous food and must not be left in the Danger Zone more than two hours.

Discard potentially hazardous food immediately if you suspect the food has been left at room temperature more than 2 hours.

  • Set the fridge temperature to less than 4℃. Keep a fridge thermometer in the fridge to routinely monitor the temperature. 
  • Never defrost food at room temperature. Thawing is to be done under proper refrigeration or cold running water. A microwave may also be used, however food which is thawed using this method must be immediately cooked.
  • Large cuts of meat (e.g., whole bird, roasts) that are to be cooled must be broken down in to small portions and stored in shallow dishes so they can be chilled quickly.


Keep raw meat, poultry, seafood and their juices separate from cooked and ready to eat food during storage and preparation. Food items which are generally safe can become contaminated because they have come in contact with a surface, utensil, hand or piece of equipment which is contaminated. This is an indirect contamination known a cross contamination.

  • cutting boards
  • slicers
  • mixers
  • grinders
  • knives
  • tongs
  • general serving utensils
  • food preparation tables
  • testing thermometers

  • Prevent raw meat juices from dripping onto other foods in the fridge by storing them near the bottom of the fridge.
  • Place washed produce in a clean, food grade container with a lid.
  • Keep foods covered.
  • Ensure ready to eat foods are stored above and well away from raw meats and unwashed produce.
  • Use separate utensils and cutting boards for raw foods and cooked food items.
  • Ensure all utensils, equipment and food contact surfaces are cleaned and disinfected after every use.

Contact Us

Huron Perth Public Health

Huron Office
77722B London Road, RR #5, Clinton, ON
N0M 1L0

Perth Office
653 West Gore St., Stratford ON N5A 1L4
Toll-free 1-888-221-2133

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