Food handling and storage tips

How safe is your kitchen?

Most cases of foodborne illnesses (food poisoning) are a direct result of improper food handling and storage. You can reduce the risk in your kitchen by following these food safety tips:

Tip #1: Clean

  • Wash your hands for at least 20 seconds with soap and warm water before and after handling food.
  • Clean and sanitize your countertops, utensils, small appliances and cutting boards after each use.
  • Thoroughly wash and sanitize containers and utensils that were in contact with raw food (e.g., raw meat, poultry or seafood).
  • While preparing food, clean everything that comes in contact with your hands or your raw food (e.g., raw meat, poultry or seafood). This includes cloths, faucets, garbage cans and refrigerator handles.
  • Use paper towels to clean up kitchen surfaces. If you use cloth towels or sponges, wash them often to prevent bacteria growth and disinfect regularly with bleach.
  • Cover any infection or cut on your hand with a bandage and wear disposable gloves when preparing food. Change gloves frequently -- wash gloved hands as often as bare hands.

For more food handling tips, visit Food safety.

Did you know...

You can sanitize by combining 5 mL (1 tsp) of bleach with 750 mL (3 cups) of water in a spray bottle. After cleaning, spray the sanitizer on the surface or utensil, let it stand briefly, then rinse with lots of clean water and dry with a clean towel.

Tip #2: Chill

  • Immediately put away any food that needs to be refrigerated or frozen--two hours is the maximum time food should be out of the refrigerator--and out of the 'danger zone' temperature range of 4°C to 60°C.
  • Check the temperature of your fridge and freezer. Set refrigerators at or below 4°C (40°F), and freezers at or below -18°C (0°F).
  • Don't overload your fridge or freezer. Cool air must circulate freely to keep food properly chilled.
  • Thaw food in the refrigerator and NOT on the counter. Disease-causing bacteria multiply quickly when food is kept at room temperature.

Tip #3: Separate

  • Disease-causing bacteria can be carried in raw meat poultry or seafood juices. Keep raw food and its juices away from other food when shopping for, storing, preparing and serving it.
  • Place raw meat, poultry and seafood in separate containers.
  • Use separate equipment and utensils for handling raw foods (e.g., raw meat, poultry or seafood).
  • Use separate cutting boards: one for raw meat, poultry or seafood; one for washed fresh produce; and one for ready-to-eat foods.
  • When serving cooked food, do not reuse the same plates and utensils that raw food sat on (e.g., raw meat, poultry or seafood).

Handling and storing leftovers

Many people enjoy eating leftovers from holiday festivities, family gatherings or dining out. However, leftovers need to be properly handled to make sure they are safe to reuse.

Handling leftovers

  • Wash your hands and sanitize all utensils, dishes and work surfaces before and after handling leftovers.
  • Throw away any cooked food that has been left out at room temperature for more than two hours.
  • When in doubt, throw it out! It's impossible to tell if food is contaminated just by its look, smell or taste.

Cooling leftovers

  • Refrigerate all leftovers within two hours in uncovered, shallow containers so they cool quickly. Cover the food when it has cooled to refrigerator temperature.
  • Very hot items can first be cooled at room temperature, then refrigerated once they stop steaming (within two hours).
  • Store leftovers on the top shelf of your refrigerator. This will keep them safe from potential contamination by dripping raw foods.

Storing leftovers

  • Always use a clean container to hold the leftovers. Keep leftovers from different meals separate to prevent cross-contamination.
  • Write the date on containers to help identify the contents and ensure they are not stored too long. Refrigerated leftovers should be eaten within two or three days of cooking.

Food storage during an emergency

Knowing safe food handling practices can prevent foodborne illnesses in a disaster or emergency.

  • Inspect all food items for signs of spoilage. Don't eat any food you think may be unsafe.
  • Throw away any food that has been contaminated by floodwater, chemicals, animal waste, dirt or other materials from the outside environment.
  • Throw away containers that are bulging or damaged. Only food in hermetically sealed, airtight containers (for example, metal cans and juice boxes) is safe.
  • If the power goes out, put ice (if available) in the refrigerator or in a cooler to help keep perishable foods temporarily chilled. On its own, an upright or chest freezer will keep food frozen for about 24 hours during a power failure if kept closed; a refrigerator will keep food cool for four to six hours.
  • Discard any thawed food that has remained at room temperature for two or more hours.
  • If raw food (e.g., raw meat, poultry or seafood) has leaked during thawing, clean and disinfect the areas the food has touched, and throw away any food that has been contaminated by it. Food that still contains ice crystals or feels refrigerator-cold can be refrozen.
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