Worth a Second Look – Food Safety Part II

October 2, 2002

Safety in production is vital to keeping our food chain free from contamination. It is just as important to store and prepare food properly at home. At their website, http://www.inspection.gc.ca, the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) recommends the following steps to prevent food contamination at home:

Check food before purchasing it. If the package leaks, ask the store to repackage the product. Avoid swollen or leaking cans as they may house bacteria. Buy perishable foods last and put them away first. Surface bacteria can begin to grow as soon as the food starts to become warm.

Make sure food is stored correctly. The fridge temperature should be four degrees Celsius or less and the freezer should be -18 degrees Celsius or less.

Clean hands, surfaces and utensils thoroughly before cooking. Use hot, soapy water while handling food and for clean up afterwards. Sanitize cutting boards, counter tops and utensils with bleach and water after use, a mixture of one (1) tsp bleach per three (3) cups of water is recommended. This will kill surface bacteria.

Examine food closely before cooking it. Look for mould, discoloration, damaged packaging and unusual smells and appearance. If in doubt, throw it out.

Thaw food in the refrigerator. It is also acceptable to thaw food under running cold water or in the microwave oven. Thawing food at room temperature is unsafe because surface bacteria start to multiply as soon as the food warms up.

Cook food thoroughly and serve immediately. Keep food covered as flies and other insects can introduce bacteria. Put foods away promptly as surface bacteria can grow on foods left out to cool.
The Partnership for Food Safety Education’s Fight BAC! ® website has great information about food safety for consumers. According to the website, the Partnership, a public-private organization, is committed to being a key resource for consumers on important issues related to food safety. Located at http://www.fightbac.org, the site provides information on seasonal food safety, basic food safety information, and community activities. With activities for kids and links to other food safety sites, it is a great resource for information about food safety.
Sometimes, consumers purchase food products only to find out later that there was a problem in the manufacturing process. On July 11th, Canada Safeway issued a warning that a certain brand of frozen hamburgers may have been contaminated with Escherichia (E.) Coli 0157:H7. This bacterium can produce life-threatening toxins that break down the lining of the intestines and cause kidney damage. Canada Safeway urged consumers not to eat the product and to return it to the store for a full refund.

Food recalls like this one are coordinated through the Office of Food Safety and Recall (OFSR), at the Canadian Food and Inspection Agency. Since 1997, this branch of the CFIA, works with producers to coordinate emergency food recalls in a timely and effective manner. It is up to the manufacturer to have a tested recall plan in place. When a manufacturer suspects that they have sold, distributed or imported a product that could cause harm to consumers, it is up to them to report to the OFSR and to implement their recall plan.

Section 19 of the Canadian Food Inspection Agency act states that the minister responsible for the OFSR can order the recall of a food product. If the recall affects products at the consumer level, the public is alerted through a series of “Public Warning” press releases. Recall warnings are posted on the CFIA website. The food recalls and allergy alerts currently posted include warnings of undeclared allergens, dangerous bacteria and ground glass in food products. There are three levels of food recalls; a Class One recall occurs where it is suspected that the contaminated product could cause death. The OFSR has a mandate to respond within 24 hours to a Class One food recall. A Class Two recall occurs where the product could cause temporary adverse health affects. A Class Three recall occurs where exposure to the product is not likely to cause any adverse health affects.

National standards and careful food preparation at home keep our families safe from food contamination. Although there are standards and regulations, we have no control over their implementation when we go out to eat. Public Health Inspectors are charged with that responsibility. Part III discusses the role of public health agencies that keep our food safe. Food Safety is Worth a Second Look!

Teresa Neuman is a member of the Board of Directors of Briarpatch Magazine. She lives in Regina with her family and is a member is CUPE.