Food Safety
Questions Answered

Did you know that most foodborne illnesses can be prevented by following safe food handling practices?

Randy Huffman, Chief Food Safety and Sustainability Officer at Maple Leaf Foods

Maple Leaf Foods’ food safety efforts are led by Randy Huffman, Ph.D., a leading expert in the food safety field.

Here, Dr. Huffman answers your most frequently asked questions.

How can I ensure my hands are clean before I prepare food?

You should wash your hands vigorously with hot, soapy water for 20 seconds before preparing food.  That’s long enough to sing “Happy Birthday” twice. If you handle raw meat or poultry and want to make a salad, you’ll need to wash them again before handling and cutting vegetables or any other ready-to-eat food.

Which is a safer type of cutting board – plastic or wood?

The choice is yours! But whichever you use, wash the cutting board with hot, soapy water between uses to prevent cross contamination.

Some people find colour-coded cutting boards helpful to avoid food safety errors, like cutting produce on a board that held raw meat, for example. You should also discard and replace any cutting boards with cracks and crevices where bacteria can hide.

How long can I leave food out of the refrigerator?

Refrigerated foods like deli meats should not remain outside the refrigerator for more than two hours.  In hot weather, refrigerated foods should be refrigerated after one hour because bacteria can grow more rapidly in warmer temperatures.

Leftovers remaining from cooked foods like casseroles, grilled chicken and sausage should be refrigerated promptly after consuming. Cooling before refrigerating is not recommended.  

May I defrost food like meat on the kitchen counter?

Meat and poultry should never be defrosted at room temperature. Plan and defrost in the refrigerator or use your microwave oven defrost setting.

How long may I keep an open package of deli meats?

Deli meats should be consumed by the “best before” date. If a package is opened ahead of that date, the product should be consumed within two to three days.

May I freeze deli meats?

Yes, deli meats may be frozen for two to three months and then defrosted in the refrigerator and consumed safely within two to three days.

Some deli and prepared meats contain sodium nitrite. Is this safe?

Sodium nitrite is a safe and government-approved food ingredient that gives cured meats their characteristic colour and taste. Sodium nitrite also enhances the safety of the product and prevents the growth of Clostridium botulinum, which causes botulism. 

Sodium nitrite is closely related to sodium nitrate, which is commonly found in vegetables. In fact, 93 per cent of the nitrite that people consume comes from vegetables and from their own saliva! When nitrate rich vegetables like spinach and beets are consumed, bacteria in saliva convert a portion of the nitrate to nitrite as part of its healthy nitrogen cycle.

Recent research shows that nitrite can reduce blood pressure and preeclampsia during pregnancy, reduce the risk of heart attack and stroke, promote wound healing, and even promote successful organ transplantation. Have no fear – nitrite is safe to consume, has health benefits – and helps make cured meats even safer!

Why do some cured meats that you make contain cultured celery extract instead of nitrite?

Cultured celery extract is celery fermented with bacteria, similar to how yogurt or beer is made. It is naturally rich in nitrate and performs essentially the same function as the nitrate or nitrite added directly to a product. But some people are more comfortable with a simpler, natural, vegetable source. We make products both ways and our ingredient labels clearly state whether we use nitrite or cultured celery extract.

Does frozen chicken spoil?

Chicken that is frozen (-18ºC or 0°F) for an extended period of time won’t spoil, but the quality will decline. Whole birds can be stored for up to a year and enjoyed without a decrease in quality. Cuts may be stored for up to six months and ground chicken may be stored for up to three months.

Should I wash meat or poultry before preparing it?

No, you should not wash meat or poultry before preparing it because this may spread any bacteria present on the product in your kitchen. Thorough cooking is the best way to ensure safety.

Can I reheat meat and poultry leftovers the next day?

Yes, it is safe to consume meat leftovers if they are reheated to 740C or 1650F before consuming them.  Be sure to use an instant-read thermometer to ensure they are thoroughly heated.

I’m pregnant. Should I take special precautions when enjoying my deli meats?

Yes. Pregnant women must make many changes during pregnancy to protect their baby and their own health, and these changes include what you consume and how you consume it.

Public Health experts urge pregnant women and elderly and immunocompromised people to reheat hot dogs and deli meats to steaming hot before consuming them. That’s because one strain of the bacteria Listeria – a type called Listeria monocytogenes – can pose a risk to you while you are pregnant, elderly or immunocompromised. Listeria can live in refrigerators and grow on ready-to-eat meat and poultry products, so to be safe, reheat these products while you are pregnant or if you are elderly or immunocompromised.

Where should I insert the thermometer when checking the doneness of meat or poultry?

Meat thermometers should be inserted in the thickest part of the meat cut. On a whole chicken or turkey, the thickest cut is the thigh.

For recommended cooking temperatures for all of our products, please refer to the following regulatory agency websites: 

Safe cooking temperatures –

Safe Food Handling | FDA

How long can I store fresh chicken in the refrigerator?

Always check and follow the “best before” date and storage instructions on the package. Generally, when stored in the refrigerator (40C or 400F), sealed whole birds and cuts can be kept for two to three days and ground poultry may be kept for one to two days.

What are the signs of a foodborne illness?

Symptoms vary depending on the bacteria that causes a foodborne illness and can include vomiting, diarrhea, body aches, and fever. Some bacteria cause symptoms quickly, while others take days to produce symptoms. This chart offers a handy reference.

But if you think you have a foodborne illness, call your doctor promptly and let a professional make the final determination about the cause and how to treat it.