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Demystifying Foodborne Illness

Chicken nuggets

When it comes to the kitchen or grill, most people know it’s important to cook meat properly. Unfortunately, and sometimes tragically, many people still make mistakes when it comes to preparing raw and breaded meat – mistakes that can result in such foodborne illnesses as Salmonella, Listeria and E. coli.

“A few practical steps can greatly reduce the risk of foodborne illness.”

According to Government of Canada estimates, 4 million Canadians – or one in eight – are affected by foodborne illness each year. This results in nearly 12,000 hospitalizations and more than 200 deaths. Salmonella, one of the most common forms of food poisoning, causes a quarter of those annual hospitalizations.

At Maple Leaf Foods, we have established and are committed to promoting world-class food safety practices and procedures. Our culture demands continuous improvement in our food safety practices, and we do our very best to minimize the presence of bacteria that can cause foodborne illnesses in our facilities.

But because such bacteria are so pervasive in the natural environment, it’s not possible to eliminate them entirely – whether in our products or those sold by others. That’s why our commitment to food safety extends to educating consumers on how they can prevent spreading foodborne illness at home, through precautions when handling raw or breaded meat that’s not fully cooked.

Our food safety experts recommend a well-known, four-step safety framework in the kitchen.


wash your hands and surfaces often


avoid cross-contamination of foods, and use separate cutting boards for meat and other foods


cook meat to the right temperature and test with a food thermometer


refrigerate promptly

According to Spir Marinakis, vice president of food safety and quality assurance at Maple Leaf Foods, the little things can make a big difference at home. Small investments of time, as well as proper food handling and preparation techniques, are highly effective at reducing the risk at home.

cutting up chicken “Many people practice unsafe habits in the kitchen and don’t even know it,” Marinakis says. “A few practical steps and precautions – proper cleaning and prep, good hygiene and temperature control – can greatly reduce the risk of foodborne illness.”

Hand washing is an important first step in avoiding foodborne illness. When in the kitchen, wash your hands thoroughly and often using warm, soapy water – especially after touching meat and seafood.

Cleaning surfaces properly is also important. Avoid sponges, for instance, where a billion E. coli, Salmonella and Staphylococcus bacteria can live. Instead, use disposable paper towels or disinfecting wipes – great tools for cleaning after meal prep and wiping up any spillage from meat packages.

Bacteria can also hide in the cracks and grooves of porous cutting boards. With the right care and handling, non-porous cutting boards can be safe and useful tools. Ideally, they should be smooth, durable and resist deep scratching with use. Having separate cutting boards – one for uncooked meat and seafood, and others for fruits, vegetables, fully cooked meats and cheeses – is another effective prevention measure.

Some people forget their refrigerators play an important role in food safety, as well. While refrigeration can slow bacterial growth, it doesn’t stop that growth entirely. It’s important to clean refrigerators and freezers regularly to remove spoiled foods that can transfer bacteria and moulds to other food.

Ultimately, there are several simple – but highly effective – food safety steps at home.