What do I need to know about food safety?

This article is an excerpt of a publication by Access Alliance Multicultural Health and Community Services.
Published in 2000.

Food poisoning can be avoided if you store and handle your foods properly. So, here's what to do…

Storing Food Safely

To stop food from going bad, you must store it properly.

Follow these food storage tips to keep your food safe to eat:

  • Buy only the amount of food you can store.
  • Avoid storing food under the sink, where it is damp and can bring bugs.
  • Avoid storing food over the stove, because high temperatures can cause food to go bad.
  • Close packages and containers tightly.
  • Save plastic, air-tight containers and glass jars with lids for storage.
  • Use coffee cans and other cans with snap-on lids for storing dry ingredients.
  • Line cans with a clean plastic bag.


  • Keep the refrigerator clean, which will help reduce odours.
  • If your food goes bad, remove it and wipe out the refrigerator.


  • If you want to store your food for a longer time, you can freeze it.
  • Use fresh food before it goes bad.
  • If you cannot use fresh food right away, you can cook it and refrigerate or freeze it.

Safe Ways to Thaw Your Food From the Freezer:

When it comes to food safety, cold temperatures will keep harmful bacteria from growing on food. Never thaw food at room temperature. Instead thaw food in the refrigerator, under cold running water or in the microwave.

Here are a list of foods that need to be thawed and how to thaw them;

Poultry (for example, chicken or turkey)

  • If you are thawing poultry under cold running water in the sink, it takes less than 1 hour for each pound of bird.
  • If you are thawing poultry in the refrigerator, it takes 4 ½ hours for each pound of bird.
  • Poultry can be refrozen if you can still see ice crystals on the bird.


  • Fish should be thawed in the refrigerator.It should be used right away and not refrozen.

Meat and meat products

  • Meat should be thawed in the refrigerator.
  • Frozen, uncooked meat and prepared meat can be refrozen if you can see ice crystals on it. It should only ever be re-frozen once. Prepared meat should not be refrozen if it has been at room temperature for longer than 2 hours. It should be thrown away!

Frozen fruits and vegetables

  • Fruit and vegetables should be thawed in the refrigerator.
  • Defrosted products should be kept in the refrigerator and used within 3 days.

Canned Products

  • Try to put the date (month and year) on cans when you put them away.
  • Try to use cans within a year, because the quality of the canned food will worsen after this time.
  • Canned foods are safe to eat as long as there are no bulges or leaks in the can.

Warning Signs on the Outside of a Can

Before opening the can, look at it. Remove the label so you can see if there are any problems under the label. If you find any of these problems, throw the can away and do not eat the food.

  • Swollen can - These are cans with the ends bulging out. Normal cans are flat.
  • Leaking can - These are cans that are leaking or have leaked. You can tell if a can leaked by looking for dried product on the can surface around the seams.
  • Stained can - The can may be wet or the colour may have faded because the can leaked.
  • Dented can - This is caused by rough handling. Cans that are severely dented should be thrown out.
  • Rusted can - These are cans that have rust spots on them.

Warning Signs on the Inside of the Can

When you open the can and the food "spurts" out, do not taste the food. Throw the food out. If the food spurts, it may mean it contains bacteria that can make you sick.

Before you eat food from a can, follow these steps and look for the warning signs. If a can has any of these warning signs, throw it away:

  • Looks: Bubbly or mouldy
  • Smells: Like "rotten eggs" or sour
  • Tastes: "Off" flavour or bitter

You should only taste the food if the look and smell are normal.

Dry Goods

Follow these tips for handling dry goods with care:

  • Packaging: Check for rips and tears. If it is vacuum packed there should be no air in the package when you squeeze it. If there is, throw it out.
  • Insects: Look for insects inside the packaging. This is important with grain products. Throw it out if you find insects.

Handling and Cooking

It is also important to handle and cook your foods properly.

Follow these tips for handling and cooking your foods with care:

  • Wash your hands with soap and hot water before you handle and cook your food.
  • Cover your mouth with your hands when you cough or sneeze. Then wash your hands again.
  • Use a separate spoon each time when you taste your food.
  • Always wash cutting boards after cutting meat, poultry or fish, especially before using it for something else.
  • If your counter tops, cutting boards, knives, can openers or sink touch raw food, you should clean them with hot soapy water and bleach.
  • Thaw meat and poultry in the refrigerator, in cold water in the sink with a watertight bag or in the microwave oven. This will stop the outside from getting warm while the inside is still thawing.
  • Store uncooked meat, poultry and fish in a meat drawer or on a bottom shelf with a plate underneath in the refrigerator. This keeps the blood and other juices from getting on other foods.
  • Throw out your food if it has any mould on it. Poisons caused by mould can go through the whole dish.
  • Keep hot foods hot (the temperature should be like a steaming cup of coffee).
  • If you are stuffing poultry, stuff it right before roasting or cook in separate pan.
  • Cook ground meat or chicken until it is no longer pink.
  • To speed up the cooling of your food, put it into many small containers instead of 1 large container.


  • Thawing: To melt or become semi-liquid
  • Raw food: Raw food refers to uncooked meat, poultry or fish.

Last updated: May 31, 2023 4001289