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How to Avoid Food Poisoning

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It's barbecue and picnic season! It's a great time to enjoy delicious food and the outdoors with your family. However, you may also be in the company of some unwanted guests -- bacteria and bacterial toxins that grow on your food can cause food poisoning, something that often gets passed off as the stomach flu. Did you know that about 11-13 million cases of food-borne illness occur each year in Canada? This is scary. These tips will help to protect you and your family from food-borne illness this summer:

How to Avoid Food Poisoning
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Keep It Clean
• Wash hands (for 20 seconds), utensils and cooking surfaces with soap and hot water before and after you handle food (especially meat or poultry).
• Use paper towels to wipe counters, or change dishcloths often to avoid the spread of bacteria. Avoid using sponges to clean surfaces since they're harder to keep clean.
• Wash cutting boards with hot, soapy water after each use. Nonporous acrylic, plastic, or glass boards can be washed in a dishwasher. Once cutting boards become excessively worn or develop deep grooves, replace them. Wooden cutting boards are more likely to become contaminated as there are more grooves and are harder to clean.
• Wash fresh vegetables and fruit with cool running water to remove dirt and residue. Before cutting, scrub fruits and vegetables that have firm surfaces or rinds such as carrots, oranges, melons and potatoes. And be sure to cut away damaged or bruised areas on produce -- bacteria love these places.
• Precut or pre-washed produce sold in sealed bags or in bulk should be washed before using.

Click here to learn how to keep perishables cool in the car while you shop.

Watch for Cross-Contamination
• Use separate cutting boards and utensils for raw meats and vegetables. Never put cooked food on a dish that previously held raw food.
• Keep raw meat, poultry and seafood separate from other foods in the refrigerator. Store it in plastic bags or sealed containers on the lowest rack in the fridge to prevent juices from leaking onto other foods.
• Do not pour sauce that's been used to marinate raw meat, poultry or seafood onto cooked foods. Boil leftover marinade for at least one minute, prepare extra for basting cooked food or use another sauce that has not come into contact with the raw food.

Cook It Right!
• Keep hot foods hot and cold foods cold! Prepare foods quickly, cook them thoroughly and serve soon after cooking. Don't let foods linger at temperatures where bacteria can multiply (4°C to 60°C).
• Use a digital or instant red meat thermometer to ensure foods are cooked to a safe temperature (see chart below). Leave the thermometer in for at least 30 seconds, then take the temperature from the thickest part of meat, away from any bones.

Safely Chill Your Food
• Thaw foods in the refrigerator or in cold water. Use the defrost button on the microwave oven if you plan to cook the food immediately after thawing.
• Refrigerate or freeze prepared food and leftovers within two hours. When you cook ahead of time, divide large portions of hot food into small, shallow containers to ensure safe, rapid cooling. If you don't think that you will be able to eat the leftovers within a couple of days, freeze them.
• To keep foods safe in the fridge or freezer, make sure your fridge is set at 4°C (40°F) or colder and the freezer at -18°C (0°F).
• Don't overstuff your fridge. Cold air needs to circulate above and beneath food to keep it properly chilled.
• In hot weather (32°C or 90°F) don't leave foods sitting out for more than one hour. For temperatures that aren't quite as hot, don't keep foods out for longer than two hours. If you are unsure, throw it out.

Click here to learn how to keep your cooler colder.

Picnic Safely
• Pack foods in a well-insulated cooler with plenty of ice or frozen gel packs. Pack foods first that you think you will use last. Take two coolers -- one for cold drinks and another for perishable foods so that warm air won't get into the perishables every time someone reaches for a drink.
• Transport the cooler in the back seat of an air-conditioned car, not the hot trunk.
• At the picnic or campsite, place the cooler under the shade of a tree of keep it under a blanket or tarp -- make sure it's out of the sun.
• Bring hand soap and water to wash your hands before preparing foods and eating. If soap and water aren't available, pack disposable wipes or hand sanitizer.
• Drink bottled water or tap water from a safe source. Try not to drink water from lakes or streams even if the water looks clean. If necessary, buy water purification tablets or water filters at stores that sell camping gear and outdoor sporting goods to purify lake or stream water prior to drinking it.

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