Your Burger is Done at 71: Food Safety on the Homefront


I had a Twitter conversation yesterday, regarding E. coli contamination, that got me rather riled up. Because Twitter allows me to interact with so many people, it really does open my eyes to some of the major knowledge gaps the public has on food safety. As we discussed the XL Foods beef recall, some tweeted that they were safe because they bought their beef from a neighbour. While not eating meat contained on the recall list is the right call, buying local will not protect you from E. coli. And that was just the beginning of the other ways people were “protecting” themselves from E. coli: others pledged to buy only organic beef, still more claimed being vegetarian would keep them safe.

To clear the air on a few points:

– E. coli can and is carried on vegetables as well as meat. Eating vegan or vegetarian alone will not protect you from the bacteria.

– Buying local will not protect from E. coli contamination. There is nothing wrong with supporting your neighbour’s beef farm but bacteria don’t care where you live. E. coli contamination may happen wherever slaughter occurs.

– Ditto for buying organically or naturally raised beef. Organically raised cattle still poop; there is still a risk.

The key message being missed, I think, in the face of this very real risk is the responsibility each one of us has protecting ourselves from food borne illness. Heather Travis, director of public relations for Canadian Beef, Inc., shared these top tips for safe food handling in the home. You’ll note it’s not just about beef.

Here are some steps we can all take to ensure our homes are food safe:

  • Cleanliness is key:  wash your hands thoroughly before cooking, during cooking and after cooking, especially when switching between handling different foods. Wash with soap and water for 20 seconds — that’s 2 choruses of ‘Happy Birthday’.
  • Wash fruit and veggies, but not meat and poultry. Be sure to wash all fruits and vegetables thoroughly in cool drinkable water, including those you peel or cut like melons, oranges, and cucumbers. Do not wash meats and poultry, this spreads raw meat juices to other surfaces in your kitchen – something you want to avoid.
  • Keep things cool: don’t bring meats up to room temperature before grilling or thaw at room temperature.  This is a common ‘cooking show’ recommendation that really has no benefits and is loaded with the risk of promoting the growth of harmful bacteria. Keep foods chilled in the fridge at 4?C until ready to cook – and that includes marinating too.
  • Cook meats and poultry to proper safe temperature using a food thermometer to take measure doneness. Cooking by colour is not a reliable way to know when meats are done. Use a digital instant read food thermometer to test for doneness. It’s a simple step that gives you the assurance your meat has reached a high enough internal temperature to destroy harmful bacteria.
  • Use different cooking utensils when switching between cooked and raw foods OR wash thoroughly when you do the switch. When you use the barbecue tongs for flipping steaks, burgers, chicken, kabobs etc during cooking, be sure to wash them up before using them to take foods off the grill to serve. Or better yet, have 2 pairs of tongs – 1 for raw and 1 for cooked. The same goes for cutting boards and lifters!

And remember to always follow safe food handling recommendations in your home, cooking beef to proper temperatures, and ensuring there is no cross contamination between raw and cooked foods.  Click here for more details.


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