Preventing food-borne infections

There’s no such thing as a world without germs. They are in the air, water, and soil, in animals, and in fertilizers and gardens. Therefore, they can also be found in the food and water we consume. Germs can cause food‑borne infections.

However, most of the germs found in food aren’t dangerous, and your digestive system and immune system are there to defend you. What’s more, basic hygiene habits can help protect you against food-borne infections.

Prevention tips for the whole family

On the following pages, you’ll find advice on how to choose, store, handle, and cook food to prevent food‑borne infections. These measures are applicable at all times by everyone involved in food preparation.

Some foods pose a greater risk to pregnant women. You’ll find specific advice related to pregnancy in the section below Prevention tips for pregnant women.

Cleanliness

  • Wash your hands thoroughly with soap before and after handling food (see How to do a good hand washing).
  • Use hot soapy water to wash all plates, utensils, cutting boards, surfaces, and sinks used to prepare food.
  • Disinfect everything that has been in contact with raw meat, poultry or fish using a commercial kitchen disinfectant or a solution containing 5 ml (1 tsp.) of bleach in 750 ml (3 cups) of water. Rinse well. Material can also be disinfected by washing it in the dishwasher.
  • Wash your refrigerator and your reusable grocery bags and boxes regularly. Use a separate bag for meat and poultry.
  • Change or wash your kitchen towels several times a week. When scrubbing dishes, opt for a washable sponge or cloth.

Storage, and preservation

  • Make sure that your fridge is set at 4°C (40°F) or colder, and the freezer at -18°C (0°F) or colder.
  • Do not leave foods that should normally be kept cold or hot at room temperature for more than two hours. In very hot weather, the maximum time should be one hour.
  • Store raw meat, poultry, and fish on the bottom shelves of the fridge to prevent their juices from leaking onto other foods.
  • Use refrigerated perishable foods by the best-before date, which applies before the package or container is opened. After opening, refer to the Thermoguide for information on how long you can safely store the product (in French only).
  • Refrigerate leftovers without delay. Don’t keep them any longer than four days in the fridge, or freeze them right away.

Handling

  • Wash all fruit and vegetables under running potable water, whether they are to be eaten raw or cooked and with or without the peel. A vegetable brush can be used for fruits and vegetables with a firm peel, such as carrots, potatoes, melons, and squash.
  • Defrost foods in the fridge, oven or microwave oven, not at room temperature.
    • Items that are too big to be defrosted in the refrigerator (e.g., turkey) can be immersed in cold water in their original wrapping. Change the water every 30 minutes, to ensure it stays cold.
  • Cook food right away after thawing in the microwave.
  • Do not refreeze foods, unless you cooked them after thawing.
  • Don’t let raw foods like meat, poultry and fish come into contact with cooked or ready-to-eat foods. For example, make sure ready-to-eat foods don’t come into contact with dishes or utensils previously used for raw meat.
  • Follow food label instructions on food preparation and storage.

Cooking and serving

  • To make sure food has been cooked safely, you can use a digital food thermometer to check their internal temperature.
  • Serve food hot (above 60°C) or cold (4°C or less).

The table below shows the minimum safe temperatures for destroying germs by food category.

Safe internal cooking temperature

  Minimum safe temperature Characteristics

Beef, veal, lamb

  • Whole cuts (e.g., roasts) or pieces (e.g., steaks, chops)
63°C (145°F) Rare

Mechanically tenderized beef must be turned twice during cooking.

70°C (158°F) Medium
77°C (171°F) Well done

Ground meat or meat mixtures (beef, veal, pork, lamb)

  • E.g., hamburgers, sausages, meatballs, meatloaf, casseroles
71°C (160°F)

The centre of the meat and the juice that flows from it must not be pink.

Pork

  • Whole cuts or pieces (e.g., ham, loin, ribs)
71°C (160°F) Pink
77°C (171°F) Well done

Poultry (chicken, turkey, duck, and game birds)

  • Ground or in pieces (e.g., legs, breasts, drumsticks)
74°C (165°F)  
  • Whole bird
82°C (180°F) Juice should run clear, and meat should easily separate from the bone.

Wild or farmed game meat (e.g., deer, rabbit, boar)

  • Whole cuts, pieces, or ground
74°C (165°F)

 

Fish

70°C (158°F)

 

Seafood

74°C (165°F)

The shells of shellfish (e.g., oysters, mussels, clams) must open during cooking.

Smoked sausages (hot dogs)

74°C (165°F)

Make sure that liquid from sausage packages doesn’t leak onto other foods or cooking equipment.

Egg and cheese-based dishes, stuffing

74°C (165°F)

It is preferable to cook stuffing separately from poultry.

Leftovers

74°C (165°F)

Soups, sauces, and dishes with sauce must be reheated to the boiling point.

Never reheat leftovers more than once.

Prevention tips for pregnant women

A woman’s immune system changes during pregnancy. As a result, pregnant women are more vulnerable to certain infections, such as listeriosis.

Infections like listeriosis and toxoplasmosis can also be more severe in pregnant women and cause serious problems for the fetus or newborn.

Toxoplasmosis

Toxoplasmosis is an infection transmitted by a parasite. It can be found in raw or undercooked meat, but also in cat feces. You will find more information on this infection in the sections Cats and Gardening.

Listeriosis

Listeriosis is caused by a bacteria called Listeria monocytogenes. It is a rare disease, and often relatively harmless for healthy adults. During pregnancy, however, the risk of contracting the disease is higher, and it can have serious consequences.

In pregnant women, the symptoms of listeriosis are often similar to those caused by the flu: fever, shivering, fatigue, headache, and muscle or joint pain. More rarely, listeriosis causes digestive problems (eg., vomiting, nausea, cramps, diarrhea, headaches, and constipation).

However, the bacteria that causes listeriosis can pass through the placenta and trigger a miscarriage in the first trimester. If contracted later on in pregnancy, it can cause premature delivery, stillborn birth, or serious infections in the baby (e.g., blood poisoning, meningitis).

Listeriosis and foods

The bacteria that causes listeriosis is present in the environment and can also be found in facilities where food is processed. It survives and can develop in cold temperatures, for example in household refrigerators or the refrigerated section at the grocery store.

It can contaminate certain raw foods, but it can also contaminate cooked or pasteurized foods through cross contamination due to contact with raw food. It is important to note that foods contaminated by the Listeria monocytogenes bacteria look, smell, and taste normal.

To destroy the bacteria that causes listeriosis, food must be cooked or reheated to a safe temperature (see below Safe internal cooking temperature).

Foods most likely to transmit listeriosis are low-acid foods containing a lot of water and not very much salt that

  • Are produced without being cooked or industrially processed to destroy the bacteria
  • or Are already cooked or pasteurized, but
    • are at high risk of being contaminated during handling or storage after cooking or pasteurization
    • are ready-to-eat foods kept for a long time in the refrigerator
    • are eaten without being cooked again.

These foods are presented on the following table Safer choices for pregnant women.

Safer choices for pregnant women

  Safer choices Choices to avoid during pregnancy

Meat, game, poultry

  • Raw or undercooked cooked meat, game or poultry (e.g., tartare, carpaccio, rare ground meat)
  • Pâtés and meat spreads that do not need to be refrigerated until they are opened (e.g., canned products)
  • Homemade pâtés and meat spreads that are properly cooked and stored (see above Prevention tips for the whole family)
  • Pâtés et viandes à tartiner réfrigérés (ex. : pâté de campagne, cretons)
  • Dried and salted deli meats that don’t need to be refrigerated, like some salamis and pepperonis
  • Refrigerated deli meats (e.g., ham, turkey, sliced roast beef, bologna) reheated until steaming hot or used in a dish cooked to a safe internal temperature
  • Refrigerated deli meats (e.g., ham, turkey, sliced roast beef, bologna)
  • Raw smoked sausages (hot dogs), i.e., not reheated

Fish et Seafood

  • Fish and seafood cooked or reheated to a safe internal temperature (see Safe internal cooking temperature)
  • Fish and seafood that do not need to be refrigerated until they are opened (e.g., canned products)
  • Raw or undercooked fish and seafood (e.g., tartare, sushi, ceviche, raw oysters)
  • Smoked fish and seafood that do not need to be refrigerated until they are opened (e.g., canned products)
  • Refrigerated or frozen smoked fish and seafood (e.g., smoked salmon or trout) cooked or reheated to a safe internal temperature (see Safe internal cooking temperature)
  • Smoked fish and seafood that is sold refrigerated or frozen (e.g., smoked salmon or trout)
Eggs and egg-based products
  • Eggs that are well-cooked, with firm yolks and whites (e.g., omelet, boiled, scrambled)
  • Raw or runny eggs (e.g., sunny side up, soft‑boiled, poached)
  • Pasteurized vinaigrettes, mayonnaise, and salad dressing
  • Pasteurized eggs and egg whites for raw egg–based recipes
  • Egg-based dishes cooked to a safe internal temperature, like quiche (see Safe internal cooking temperature)
  • Homemade eggnog heated to 71°C (160°F)
  • Recipes made with raw or undercooked eggs (e.g., unpasteurized mayonnaise, Caesar salad dressing, or eggnog; mousse; sauce; cookie or cake dough eaten raw)
Milk and dairy products
  • Pasteurized milk and yogurt made from pasteurized milk
  • Raw milk and dairy products made from unpasteurized milk
  • Any cheese used in cooked dishes (e.g., sauces, casseroles, or au gratin)
  • All pasteurized and unpasteurized hard cheeses (e.g., Parmesan and Romano)
  • The following cheeses, made from pasteurized milk:
    • Firm cheese (e.g., cheddar, Gouda, Swiss)
    • Cheese curds
    • Cottage cheese or ricotta
    • Cream cheese
    • Processed spreadable cheese (in jars, wedges, or blocks)
    • Processed cheese slices
  • All pasteurized and unpasteurized soft cheeses (e.g., Brie, bocconcini, Camembert, feta)
  • All pasteurized and unpasteurized semi-soft cheeses (e.g., Saint-Paulin, Havarti)
  • All pasteurized and unpasteurized blue cheeses
  • Raw milk firm cheeses
Vegetables and fruits
  • Pasteurized vegetable and fruit juice
  • Unpasteurized vegetable or fruit juice that is brought to a boil, then cooled
  • Unpasteurized vegetable or fruit juice
  • Fresh fruits and vegetables that have been thoroughly washed
  • Unwashed fruits and vegetables
  • Cooked or canned sprouts
  • Raw sprouts (e.g., alfalfa, clover, radish, mung bean, and bean sprouts)

For more information

For more information on how to prevent food-borne infections, see canada.ca/content/dam/canada/health-canada/migration/healthy-canadians/alt/pdf/eating-nutrition/healthy-eating-saine-alimentation/safety-salubrite/vulnerable-populations/pregnant-enceintes-eng.pdf.

For more information on safe food preparation and preventing food-borne infections, go to mapaq.gouv.qc.ca/fr/Consommation (in French only).

You can also keep track of food recalls by the Canadian Food Inspection Agency at inspection.gc.ca/about-the-cfia/newsroom/food-recall-warnings/eng/1299076382077/1299076493846


Miscarriage: A spontaneous abortion, which can have a variety of causes (e.g., a deformity or disease)..

Fetus: Developmental stage of a human being in its mother’s womb, from 10 weeks of pregnancy until birth.

Immune system: Organs and mechanisms that allow the body to fight against infections.