Food Safety

The goal of Ottawa Public Health's food safety program is to reduce the incidence of food poisoning in Ottawa by:

New Provincial Food Premises Regulation

The Ministry of Health and Long-Term Care (MOHLTC) has recently updated the Ontario Food Premises Regulation 493/17 (formerly Reg. 562/90) under the Health Protection and Promotion Act.  Ottawa Public Health is supporting business owners and operators by providing a short summary of some of the changes that will take effect on July 1, 2018. For a complete list of these changes, refer to the MOHLTC’s website: Food Premises (filed as O. Reg. 493/17).

Food poisoning

"Food poisoning" is a general term used to describe a food-borne illness that usually results from eating food or drinking water contaminated by disease-causing bacteria (germs) or their toxins (poisons).

What are the signs and symptoms of food poisoning?

Typical symptoms of food poisoning are:

  • Nausea
  • Diarrhea
  • Vomiting
  • Stomach cramps

These symptoms may accompany fever, chills, loss of appetite, or headache.

Often people describe these symptoms as the "stomach flu." If you suffer from mild or severe symptoms, consult your physician and notify Ottawa Public Health at 613-580-6744.

Keeping foods safe (clean, cook, chill, separate)

Kill or reduce the number of food poisoning bacteria in foods we prepare by:

Cleaning 

  • Wash your hands especially after sneezing, smoking, coughing, using the washroom, touching pets, changing diapers, or touching raw meats or eggs. Wash them for at least 15 seconds with soap.
  • Clean and sanitize utensils, cooking equipment and work surfaces. First clean the surface or item with hot water and soap, rinse and then sanitize with a chlorine solution of 1 teaspoon of bleach added to one litre of water.

  • Wash all vegetables and fruits, including those that you peel or cut, like melons, oranges and cucumbers.

Cooking

  • Use a probe thermometer to check the internal temparture of food items.  The cooking temperature must be maintained for a minimum of 15 seconds.
  • Never use leftover marinade for basting or as a sauce unless you boil it first
  • Turkey or chicken and dressing should be cooked separately. 
  • All ground beef must be thoroughly cooked to minimum internal temperature of 71°C. Do not rely on the colour of the meat or juices to determine if your hamburger is cooked. The only way you will know if your burger has reached the proper temperature is to use a probe thermometer. It must be placed into the thickest part of the meat. Never eat a hamburger that is pink in the middle.
Cooking Temperature Chart

The cooking temperature must be maintained for a minimum of 15 seconds.

Food

Minimum internal cooking temperature

Minimum reheating temperature

Whole poultry

82°C (180°F)

74°C (165°F)

Ground poultry, poultry products, poultry pieces

74°C (165°F)

74°C (165°F)

Food mixtures containing poultry, eggs, meat, fish or other hazardous food

 74°C (165°F) 74°C (165°F)
Pork, pork product, ground meat other than ground poultry   71°C (160°F)  71°C (160°F) 

Fish

70°C (158°F)  70°C (158°F)
Seafood

74°C (165°F)

74°C (165°F) 

Food Premise Reference Document, 2019

Ont. Reg. 493/17: FOOD PREMISES

Chilling

  • Meats, eggs and dairy products should be kept at a maximum of 4°C (40 F). Keep cold foods cold - place an ice pack or a frozen drink in your lunch bag to ensure that food is kept cold until lunchtime.
  • Defrost foods in the refrigerator. Turkey or chicken should be thawed in the refrigerator and never at room temperature.

Separating

  • Double bag raw meat, when storing it in the bottom of your refrigerator or when bringing it home from the grocery store. Drippings from meat can contaminate other foods with food poisoning bacteria.
  • When barbequing, always use separate plates and utensils for the raw hamburgers and the cooked hamburgers.

Raw egg products

Foods like eggnog, hollandaise sauce and Caesar salad dressing may contain raw eggs. Ottawa Public Health strongly recommends preparing these products fresh every day and using pasteurized eggs in these products.

Pasteurized milk and juices

Unpasteurized milk and juices can carry a number of disease-causing bacteria, so it's recommended to only drink pasteurized products.

What to look for when you are dining out, picking up a meal or trying to find a caterer

Inspection results posted online are meant to help the public make a decision on where to eat, but here are some other things to look for that may also be useful.

 The blue inspection certificate

Ottawa Public Health Inspection CertificateInspectors visit food establishments, both on a routine and complaint related basis, to ensure deficiencies are corrected in a timely manner. An inspection report is left with the owner/operator at the end of each inspection. The report, which may include deficiencies that were observed at the time of inspection, is posted on the Ottawa Public Health's (OPH's) food safety website shortly after the inspection. If you don't find the sit-down or take-out restaurant during your search, then it has not been inspected by OPH. In addition to the report, a blue inspection certificate is left with the owner and should be posted in a visible location for the public to see. If you don't see this blue certificate, try asking the operator about it.

 Handwashing
Operators should be washing their hands well with soap and water for at least 15 seconds before preparing food and/or changing tasks.  Gloves and sanitizers do not replace handwashing, however, may be used under varying circumstance. An example of appropriate glove use would be if a food handler has a bandaged wound on their hand, then a glove should be worn and changed regularly.
 Foods are stored in a fridge or in a steam table and covered
Food items should always be stored in a cold or hot holding unit and covered to protect them from cross contamination by other foods, humans and/or insects. One of the common causes of foodborne illness is a bacteria called Clostridium perfringens. It typically grows in foods that are high in starch, or high in protein, that have not been properly refrigerated. Foods like cooked beans, meat pies, or stews to name a few. Symptoms can include profuse watery diarrhea, abdominal bloating and nausea.
 Cleanliness
Does the restaurant or take out area look clean and tidy? Is the mess a "daily mess" or has the dirt been accumulating for days? What about the bathrooms, are they well kept? You could also take note of the staff themselves. They should have clean hands, be wearing clean clothing and should never be smoking while preparing your food.
 Transportation
If you have ordered your meal to be delivered to your house, how did it arrive?  Was the food being held nice and warm in a hot box? Was the cold food in a cooler with ice packs?  If not, please consider reporting your concerns or complaint to OPH and check out the inspection results on OPH's food disclosure website.
 Training
Don't be afraid to ask the operator if they have received any food safety training.  Whether it is a culinary degree or Ottawa Public Health Food Handler Certification any accredited food handler education would be in the best interest of you and your family.
Safe drinking water supply

Untreated water can carry a number of disease-causing bacteria. If access to safe drinking water is unavailable, be sure to bring it to a rolling boil for at least one minute before consumption.

Ottawa residents living on a residential well system can have their well water tested for free.

Food and private well water safety during a power failure

Food safety during a power failure

Power failures can result in foodborne illness risks from food spoiling due to a lack of temperature control. Follow
these safe food handling tips during a power failure to reduce your risk.

Make a Plan

  • Have a plan for how to keep your food at 4oC or lower. This plan might include backup power (generators or solar panels) or coolers and ice.
  • Connect with your community to learn what resources are available (friends, family, Ottawa Community Housing, community associations). 2-1-1 can help direct you to resources nearby.
  • Know the location of your community food banks
  • Make an emergency food kit and rotate it so that food does not spoil. Choose low-sodium, lows-sugar and whole grain shelf stable foods when possible:
    • Canned vegetables (low sodium)
    • Canned fruits (packed in water)
    • Cereal & crackers (whole grain)
    • Instant oatmeal
    • Legumes (low sodium canned, or dried)
    • Dry pasta (whole grain)
    • Couscous (whole wheat), bulgur
    • Rice (brown) or minute rice
    • Canned pasta sauce, stew, soup, chili, curry (low sodium)
    • Canned fish 
    • Peanut butter 
    • Nuts and seeds 
    • Dried fruit 
  • Have a way to cook food that doesn’t require electricity (BBQ, camp stove) and ensure you have fuel.

During an Outage

Use a thermometer to monitor the temperature of your food and make sure it stays cold (below 4oC/4oF). 

Outages that last four hours or less

  • Avoid opening your refrigerator and freezer.
  • Add ice to help keep foods cold, especially if it’s unclear how long the outage will last. Outages that last between four hours and two days

Outages that last between four hours and two days

  • Pack your food on ice either in your fridge, freezer or in a cooler.
  • Consider moving food to a friend’s or family member’s freezer if they have power or call 211 to ask about community fridges or food preparation spaces available near you.
  • Make sure your raw meats won’t leak as they thaw and contaminate other foods or surfaces. Clean and disinfect any areas that have been contaminated with juices from raw meats. Do not reuse these cloths until they have been cleaned and sanitized. 
  • Food that still contains ice crystals or has been kept at 4oC or lower can be refrozen. The quality may change; however, the food is still safe.
  • Hazardous foods like raw and cooked meats, dairy products, prepared meals and cut fruit and vegetables will start to grow bacteria that can make you sick if they are kept above 4oC for more than four hours.
  • Cook and eat the food that will spoil the fastest first. 
    • Food from the fridge will spoil before food from the freezer.
    • Meats spoil before fruits and vegetables.
    • Milk, cream and soft cheeses will spoil before hard cheeses, butter and yogurt 
    • Vegetables and fruits that are sliced will spoil before those that are kept whole. 
    • Condiments and spreads that are acidic will take longer to spoil.
    • Breads, whole fruits and vegetables do not require refrigeration to be safe to eat. 
    • Cooked dishes and leftovers require refrigeration. They may contain bacteria that make toxins as they grow and these toxins cannot be killed by cooking or reheating the food.
  • It is important to cook or reheat foods thoroughly and to check the internal temperature using a thermometer.
    • Cook or reheat poultry and poultry dishes to 74oC
    • Cook or reheat dishes with other meats to 71oC

Outages that last more than two days

  • Move food to a friend’s or family member’s freezer if they have power or call 2-1-1 to ask about community fridges available near you.
  • Check in with your neighbours who may need support if you have power and available storage space
  • Continue to cook and eat food before it spoils.
  • Consider sharing food and cooked meals with family members living outside of your home, friends and neighbours to reduce food waste and to leverage resources.
  • Call 2-1-1 to ask about resources available in your community. There may be emergency centres that have been set up to provide hot meals, showers and charging stations.

Recovering after a power outage

If you are worried that you won’t be able to replace your food that has spoiled, call 2-1-1 to find out what resources are available to you as well as a list of food banks in your neighbourhood. 

Ottawa Public Health's Food safety during a power failure factsheet [pdf - 306 KB]

Private wells - Drinking water safety during and after a power outage

Power outages can disrupt private well water drinking supplies. Visit our Severe weather page for more information.

Food safety during and after a flood

Always discard food that has been exposed to flood water. Discard food and beverage containers with screw-caps, snap lids, crimped caps (soda bottles), twist caps, flip tops, corks, and home canned foods if they have come in contact with flood water. These containers cannot be disinfected. The only safe flood-exposed foods are those sealed in metal cans and that have not been damaged. Thoroughly clean and disinfect with bleach and water all undamaged cans before opening.

More information about safety during and after a flood can be found on the Ottawa Public Health Flooding page. If you have questions or concerns about certain food items after a flood, please call Ottawa Public Health at 613-580-6744 to speak with a Public Health Inspector or email healthsante@ottawa.ca

Thinking of donating food to families or communities in need?

Ottawa Public Health (OPH) wants to help you avoid the risk of food related illness. Food poisoning is a general term used to describe an illness that usually results from eating food or drinking water contaminated by diseasecausing bacteria (germs) or their toxins (poisons). These bacteria may be naturally present or may enter foods that are improperly handled.
Here are a few examples of food items that are more likely to cause food poisoning if they are not handled properly:

  • Raw or undercooked meats (including poultry), eggs and fish
  • Cooked and processed meats, poultry, eggs, fish and rice
  • Gravies, soups and casseroles
  • Sandwiches and salads containing mayonnaise, meats and eggs
  • Milk and dairy products

When donating these food items, follow OPH’s “Tips for preparing food” to kill or reduce the number of food poisoning bacteria that may be present in the foods you donate.

Ottawa Public Health Food donations factsheet [216 KB - PDF]

Food donation FAQ's

I want to prepare a hot meal (e.g. chili) in a slow cooker to share with the community, is this a safe way to prepare the food?

Yes, but only if the meat has reached a safe internal cooking temperature before it is added to the slow cooker. Use a probe thermometer to check the temperature for all foods containing meat, fish or eggs. For example, ground beef must
reach an internal temperature of 71oC and chicken 74oC. (See chart on “Tips for preparing food”)

I want to leave a hot meal for people to enjoy but I do not want to leave my slow cooker, what should I do?

The safest way to serve a hot meal is to keep and transport hot foods at 60oC or higher. Tape your name and phone number to the slow cooker so that you can be contacted once the event is over.

There is no room to properly store my cold food items, should I just leave them on the counter? 

No. The safest way to store cold food items is at 4oC. Bring your cold food items (e.g. sandwiches or salads) in a cooler with ice. Tape your name and phone number to the cooler so that you can be contacted once the event is over.

If I prepared a home cooked meal (e.g. casseroles, quiche, chicken pot pie, etc.) and left it out on the counter overnight to cool, is it safe to serve?

No. These foods should be thrown out. All of these foods (casseroles, quiche, chicken pot pies) contain potentially hazardous ingredients such as meat or dairy and should therefore not be left at room temperature for more than two (2) hours.

If I had sandwiches/meat pies stored in the refrigerator and they smelled and tasted fine, but I am unsure of their preparation date, can I still serve them?

It is impossible to tell by the taste, smell, or appearance of the food if it contains harmful bacteria. Food poisoning bacteria, unlike spoilage bacteria, do not affect the colour, odour or taste of foods. Meat pies can be kept safely in the refrigerator at 4oC for up to three (3) days. If you are unsure of how old a prepared dish is, it is best to be cautious and throw it out.

How to safely use reusable food containers

Are you considering using your own reusable food container at a grocery store or a restaurant? Are you interested in reducing the number of single-use containers that end up in landfills? Ottawa Public Health has some food safety tips to help you avoid the risk of food-related illness while you are living your zero-waste lifestyle.

First things first: Make sure the grocery store or restaurant you are visiting allows you to bring and use your own food containers. It is up to each individual business to come up with their own policy about the containers they allow.
The right container: It is important to use a container that can be easily cleaned and sanitized. Sanitizing will kill any germs that may remain after cleaning. Follow the cleaning and sanitizing steps below. The food container should also be in good condition; no cracks or open s seams and does not rust.
Keeping ’em clean: Don’t use a dirty or unwashed container. Clean and sanitize each container you want to use every time before and after you use it. There are two ways to do this:

  • Clean your container in your dishwasher, or
  • Follow these 4 steps:
  1. Clean the container and the lid with hot water and soap
  2. Rinse the container 
  3. Sanitize the container by soaking them for 45 seconds in one of the following:
    • a chlorine solution of 1 teaspoon of bleach per litre of water 
    • clean hot water no colder than 77oC (170oF) 
  4. Air dry on a clean surface

Prevent cross-contamination: Bacteria are invisible to the naked eye. Containers might look clean but may still be carrying bacteria. Don’t let scoops or spouts touch your container and don’t set the container down in the food when filling it. Never put any food from your container back into a food bin. Remember to use separate containers for raw meats and ready-to-eat food items.
And don’t forget! Wash your hands with warm soapy water before eating or starting your meal preparation.

How to safely use reusable food containers factsheet [pdf - 760 KB]

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