Being a smart consumer will help protect you and your family from the possibility of becoming ill from food poisoning. Think about food safety before purchasing food, whether it’s from your favourite store or when ordering food online. Here are a few tips about how you can keep you and your family safe when buying food:
- Check the DineSafe website before buying so that you can see where your food is being prepared. Other municipalities outside of Toronto may also have an online disclosure system. If the restaurant or shop is indicated here you will know that it is a regularly inspected premises.
- Review the inspection history to learn about their food handling practices.
- Purchase food from stores, restaurants and shops that are inspected by a local health unit/department.
- Contact the vendor and ask for their inspection history before you make any purchases.
Buying Food Online
- Try to visit the location at least once before purchasing.
- Check the following before accepting a food delivery:
- Is the “hot food” hot? Is the “cold food” cold? Food should be delivered to you as quickly as possible to ensure it will be served at the proper temperatures.
- Is the packaging properly sealed to prevent leaking and protect the food during transit?
- Is the food labelled? Food items should have a receipt or a label to indicate where the food was produced or packaged and include contact information.
- Does it appear to be fresh? Check for signs of spoilage or mould. If in doubt, throw it out or contact the store your purchased the food from.
Buying Food at a Store
- Wash re-usable grocery bags frequently to remove any spilled liquids and visible dirt.
- When shopping for groceries pick up dry, canned and room temperature foods first.
- Pick up the cold foods last – this keeps the refrigerated and frozen foods colder until you get them home.
- Food should look and smell fresh when you buy it. Canned food should be free of dents, rust and bulges. Packages should be intact with no ripped or torn packaging.
- Food that is supposed to be cold should feel cold to the touch. The refrigerator at the store should have a thermometer that reads 4° Celsius or colder. Frozen food should be rock-solid.
- Check the ‘best before’ date – don’t buy anything you won’t use before the date shown.
- Never leave food in a hot car. The warm temperatures give bacteria a perfect conditions to grow.
When you get home from shopping:
- Place cold foods into the refrigerator or freezer as soon as possible.
- If you bought pre-cooked food, make sure that the food is kept hot by putting the food in a heated oven or microwaving the food to keep it above 60°C. If you plan on eating the food later, cool and store the food in the refrigerator.
Best Before and Expiry Dates
Food products offered for sale in Toronto generally do not have “expiry” dates. They may display a “best before” date, which indicates the date after which the product is still safe to eat but that the producer cannot guarantee peak flavour or texture.
Best before dates are affixed by the producer of the product and are not mandatory.
Products offered for sale which are past their “Best Before” dates products do not necessarily represent a violation of the food premises regulation.
What should I do if I find products on the shelf past the “best before” date?
There are a small group of food products with true expiry dates. These products are governed by the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA).
What products have true expiry dates?
- formulated liquid diets (nutritionally complete diets for people using oral or tube feeding methods)
- foods represented for use in a very low-energy diet (foods sold only by a pharmacist and only with a written order from a physician)
- meal replacements (formulated food that, by itself, can replace one or more daily meals)
- nutritional supplements (food sold or represented as a supplement to a diet that may be inadequate in energy and essential nutrients)
- human milk substitutes (infant formula)
What should I do if I find expired products from the list above or dates which have been tampered with or re-dated?
- Report to the CFIA (Food Labelling).
Storing Food at Home
- Regularly inspect canned goods for dents, cracks or bulging lids. Any of these signs can indicate a serious food poisoning threat.
- Divide leftovers into small, shallow containers for quick cooling in the refrigerator.
- Properly label and identify all household chemical containers and store away from food.
- Label food with the purchase date so that you use food in order.
Refrigerator and Freezer Temperatures
Don’t overload your refrigerator and freezer. Cool air must circulate freely to keep food properly chilled.
Run your refrigerator at 4°C
- To keep bacteria from multiplying, the refrigerator should run at 4°C (40°F) or slightly colder.
- Keep your refrigerator as cold as you can without freezing your milk or lettuce.
- Don’t pack the refrigerator completely full cool air must circulate to keep food safe.
Run your freezer at -18°C
- The freezer unit should be at -18°C (0°F).
- Freeze fresh meat, poultry or fish immediately if you can’t use it within a few days and put the date on the outside so you know how long it has been there.
Avoid leaving perishable foods out of the refrigerator. Bacteria that cause food poisoning grow quickly at room temperature.
Put raw meat on a plate in the fridge:
- Packages of raw meat, poultry or fish should be cooked the same day you buy it or by the next day.
- Always put the packages on a plate or in a container with a lid before refrigerating. Place the plates or containers on the lower shelves of the refrigerator so the meat juices won’t drip on other food. Raw meat juices often contain harmful bacteria.
Rodents and Insects
Avoid eating foods that may have been contaminated by rodents or insects. Chewed packaging or web-like material on packaging could be a sign of exposure to rodents or insects, which could make the food unsafe to eat.