Food safety in the home

Safe food handling at home starts with four basic principles: clean, separate, cook and chill.

Learn more about the general principles of food safety by attending a food handler training and certification program.

Did you know that your kitchen can be a high-risk environment for food-borne illness? There can be numerous microscopic germs, such as bacteria, viruses, and parasites. If ingested, these germs can make you and your family sick. These organisms thrive in food that is improperly stored or handled. You can’t see, taste or smell these microbes.

You have the power to reduce the risk of becoming a victim of these organisms by following four simple steps:


Hand washing is one of the best ways to prevent the spread of food-borne illness. Wash your hands often with soap and water. Lather for at least 15 seconds. Wash your hands before and after handling food and after using the bathroom, changing diapers, handling pets, and when you switch from one food item to another or from one task to another.

Make sure your countertops and utensils are clean and sanitized. Sanitizing reduces bacteria and can prevent food-borne illness.

Making a sanitizing solution with household bleach is easy and effective!

Consider using paper towels or disposable moist towelettes to clean up kitchen surfaces. If you use cloth towels, wash them often in hot water in your washing machine.

Rinse fresh fruit and vegetables under running tap water, including those with skins and rinds that are not eaten.

Rub firm-skin fruit and vegetables under running tap water or scrub with a clean vegetable brush while rinsing with running tap water.


Cross-contamination is how harmful germs can spread. When handling raw meat, keep these foods and their juices away from ready-to-eat foods.

Avoid cross-contamination by having separate cutting boards. Use one cutting board for fresh produce and a different cutting board for raw meats, poultry, and seafood.

Separate raw meat, poultry, seafood, and eggs from other foods in your grocery shopping cart, grocery bags, and in your fridge.

Never place cooked food on a plate that was previously used for raw meat, poultry, seafood or eggs without washing and sanitizing it first.


Food is safely cooked when it reaches a high enough internal temperature to kill the harmful bacteria that cause food-borne illness. Don’t rely on sight, smell or taste alone to determine if your food is safe to eat. Ensuring foods reach a safe minimum internal temperature is the only reliable way to ensure safety. Use a metal stem probe thermometer to measure the internal temperature of cooked foods.

Refer to the Ministry of Health webpage on proper cooking temperatures for safe internal cooking temperatures.

Make sure there are no cold spots in food (where bacteria can survive) when cooking in a microwave oven. For best results, cover food, stir and rotate for even cooking. If there is no turntable, rotate the dish by hand once or twice during cooking.

Bring sauces, soups, and gravy to a boil when reheating. Heat other leftovers thoroughly before eating.


Refrigerate foods quickly, because cold temperatures slow the growth of harmful germs. Do not over-stuff the refrigerator. Cold air must circulate to help keep food safe. Keeping a constant refrigerator temperature of 4°C (40°F) or colder is one of the most effective ways to reduce the risk of food-borne illness. The freezer should be consistently at -18°C (0°F) or colder.

Refrigerate or freeze meat and other perishable foods as soon as you get home from the store. Never let raw meats or cooked foods or fresh cut fruit or vegetables sit at room temperature for more than 2 hours before refrigerating or freezing them.

Never defrost food at room temperature. Food must be kept at a safe temperature during thawing. There are 3 safe ways to defrost food:

Food thawed in cold water or in the microwave should be cooked immediately.

Always marinate foods in the refrigerator.

Divide large amounts of leftovers into shallow containers for quicker cooling in the refrigerator.

Use or discard refrigerated food on a regular basis. Check the Cold Storage Chart (Partnership for Food Safety Education) for optimum storage times.

Food safety during and after an emergency

Food may not be safe to eat during and after an emergency such as a flood, fire, power outage, or other natural disaster. Throw out any food that may have come in contact with flood or storm water, fire or smoke, perishable foods that have been unrefrigerated for more than 2 hours and those with an unusual odour or texture should also be thrown out.

When it doubt, throw it out.

For more information on what to do with your food during and after an emergency, refer to the Canadian Food Inspection Agency’s webpage on Food Safety In An Emergency.

You can learn more about the general principles of food safety by attending a food handler training and certification program.

This item was last modified on October 13, 2021