Food safety for First Nations and Inuit
Learn about food safety tips when handling, cooking and storing food.
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Possible health effects
Foodborne illness occurs when a person gets sick from eating food that has been contaminated with an unwanted micro-organism such as a bacteria, virus or parasite. This type of illness is also known as food poisoning.
The most common symptoms of foodborne illness include stomach cramps, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea and fever. Many cases of foodborne illness are not reported because the signs often resemble the stomach flu.
While most people fully recover from foodborne illnesses, they can result in chronic health problems in some cases.
Although food handling practices that minimize the number of bacteria in food must be employed at all stages of commercial processing, we all have an important role to play in practicing safe food handling techniques in the home.
- Always wash your hands and cooking surfaces with soap and hot water before you handle food; do this often while you prepare the food, and again when you have finished. Sanitize countertops, cutting boards and utensils with a freshly made mild bleach solution (15 to 20 ml or 3 to 4 teaspoon bleach in 1 litre or 4 cups of water)
- Make sure you try to wash dishes right away after each meal
- Wash all fresh fruits and vegetables under cool running water before you eat or cook them
- Clean country food such as fish, caribou, deer and seal outside when it is possible to do so; this will help prevent disease-causing micro-organisms that may be on the animal's skin or fur from being brought into your home
- When cleaning country food indoors, clean and disinfect the counters, cutting boards, ulus and knives completely when you are finished; make sure to throw away all cardboard and plastic used while cleaning meat when finished. Turn on a fan or open a window, weather permitting, to get good air flow, if needed
- Keep foods like meats and their blood and juices away from other foods during storage and preparation
- Have separate cutting boards for raw meats and for vegetables
- Cooking times vary for meats and fish; after they are cooked, keep meats and fish out of the "danger zone", between 4°C to 60°C (or 40°F to 140°F) by preparing them quickly and serving them right away; do not let food sit in the danger zone because bacteria can rapidly grow
- Refrigerate or freeze foods that can spoil, as well as cooked food and leftovers within 2 hours; make sure the refrigerator is set at a temperature of 4°C (40°F) or colder and keep the freezer set at -18°C (0°F)
- Store food in containers with lids
- Avoid storing food in plastic grocery bags, garbage bags or other containers not meant for food storage
- Consult your local, provincial or territorial governments for information about amount of locally caught fish that is safe to eat in certain regions to avoid excess mercury from fish
- Pregnant and nursing women, as well as children, should avoid certain organs, such as the liver and kidneys of wildlife
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