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Food Safety for People with Weakened Immune Systems

Starting date:
March 22, 2012
Posting date:
March 22, 2012
Type of communication:
Information Update
Source of recall:
Health Canada
Food Safety
General Public
Identification number:

Health Canada is reminding Canadians of the importance of food safety for people with weakened immune systems.

When you are ill, your immune system can be weakened, which makes it harder for your body to fight off infections. Examples of people who may have weakened immune systems include transplant patients and those with diabetes and HIV, as well as some cancer patients. It is extremely important for people with weakened immune systems, and their caregivers, to follow food safety steps and avoid eating certain foods to help lower their risk of foodborne illness.

It is estimated that there are approximately 11 million cases of foodborne illnesses in Canada every year. Many of these cases could be prevented by following proper food handling and preparation techniques.

To minimize the risks of foodborne illness, follow these steps when handling and preparing food:


  • At the grocery store, separate raw meat, poultry, fish and seafood from other grocery items. Place these raw foods in separate plastic bags that you can get in the produce or meat sections.
  • In your home refrigerator, store raw meat, poultry, fish and seafood on the bottom shelf to prevent any juices from dripping down onto other foods.


  • Wash all plates, utensils, and cutting boards that touch or hold raw meat, poultry or seafood with warm soapy water, or in the dishwasher, before using them again for foods that are not cooked before eating, like fresh fruit and raw vegetables or ready-to-eat foods. You may also use the following solution to help you sanitize your surfaces and utensils:
    • Combine 5 mL (1 tsp) of bleach with 750 mL (3 cups) of water in a labelled spray bottle.
    • Spray the bleach solution on the surface/utensil and let stand briefly.
    • Rinse with lots of clean water and air dry (or use clean towels).
  • Wash your hands with warm, soapy water for at least 20 seconds before and after handling raw meats, poultry, fish or seafood and after using the bathroom, touching pets or changing diapers.
  • Always wash raw fruits and vegetables gently in cool, running water. You can also use a vegetable brush to scrub hard skin produce such as carrots, potatoes, melons and squash. Remember, you can't always tell whether foods carry surface bacteria by the way they look, smell or taste.
  • After using reusable bags for grocery shopping, make sure you wash them, especially if they contained raw meat, poultry, fish or seafood. It is a good practice to have grocery bags specifically for raw meats, poultry, fish and seafood; make sure they are clearly labelled as such.


  • Make sure you store your raw meat, poultry, fish and seafood in the refrigerator at 4ºC (40ºF) or below.
  • After grocery shopping, make sure your raw meat, poultry and seafood are refrigerated as soon as possible; this is especially important on hot days.
  • Put leftovers back in the refrigerator as soon as you are finished eating. Never leave food out on the counter for more than two hours.
  • The simple rule is: when in doubt, throw it out.


  • Make sure that your food is thoroughly cooked before eating it. You can reduce your risk of foodborne illness by avoiding high-risk foods.
  • Remember, visual cues like colour are not a guarantee that food is safe. Don't guess! Use a digital instant-read food thermometer to check when meat and poultry are safe to eat. Cooked foods are safe to eat when internal temperatures are:
    • 71º C (160º F) for ground meat
    • 74º C (165º F) for leftover food and poultry parts
    • 85º C (185º F) for whole poultry


  • Close attention should also be paid to the foods themselves. Some foods are at a higher risk for foodborne illness than others.
    • Make sure to cook hot dogs and deli meats until they are steaming hot before eating them.
    • Don't eat raw or undercooked meat, poultry, fish or seafood.
    • Avoid refrigerated smoked fish or seafood.
    • Avoid unpasteurized juice, cider and milk.
    • Avoid soft and semi-soft cheeses made from raw or unpasteurized milk.
    • Avoid refrigerated pâtés and meat spreads.
    • Avoid uncooked foods made from raw or unpasteurized eggs.

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For more information

For more information on the four steps to food safety and food safety tips for those with weakened immune systems, please visit: