In this guide, we take an in-depth look at potentially hazardous foods that are often linked to food-borne illness outbreaks.
Specific rules are provided for purchasing, storing, thawing, preparing, cooking and serving these foods. We’ll also advise about any warnings that should be given to customers.
In This Resource
This guide is aligned with food safety laws and regulations across Canada; however, it is important to note that food safety laws and regulations differ slightly in the province of Manitoba.
We have included a colour legend throughout the guide to identify what provinces regulations apply to.
All of Canada
Canada excluding Manitoba
Differences, where there are any, are clearly marked in each section of the guide. Refer to the legend at the beginning of each section, if required.
Please note: Your local regulations may specify higher cooking temperatures for certain types of meat, or longer cooking times. It’s always a good idea to review these to ensure compliance.
Meat & Meat Products
Only accept meat that is delivered refrigerated or frozen. Always check the temperature of the meat to ensure it meets temperature requirements.
- Refrigerated meat must be 4°C / 40°F or below (5°C / 41°F or below).
- Frozen meat must be -18°C / 0°F or below.
Reasons to reject meat deliveries include:
- The temperature of the meat is higher than 4°C / 40°F (5°C / 41°F) when received.
- The colour is incorrect. Beef should be brightred, lamb should be light red and pork should be pink with white fat. There should not be any brown or purple blotches, or black, green or white spots.
- The flesh is not firm and moist,or if it is slimy or sticky.
- The meat does not carry inspections tampsorgrades as required by your local authority. Always purchase meat and meat products from approved suppliers.
Meat and meat products should be wrapped in airtight packages and may be frozen or refrigerated.
- Refrigerated meat must be stored at 4°C / 40°F or below (5°C / 41°F or below).
- Frozen meat must be stored at -18°C / 0°F or below.
Meat and meat products must be stored on the bottom shelf of the fridge so that they don’t drip onto and contaminate other foods. This is especially important if you store pre-cooked or ready-to-eat foods in the same refrigerator.
If you chop or mince fresh meat on your premises, this should be refrigerated and used within 24 hours.
The best way to thaw frozen meat is on the bottom shelf of the refrigerator, below and away from any pre-cooked or ready-to-eat foods.
If you must use cold running water to thaw meat, be sure to do this away from any other foods and keep the plastic wrapping on the meat during the thawing process. This is not a recommended method for thawing meat.
Meat can be refrozen if it is only partially thawed, or if it has been stored in a refrigerator at 4°C / 40°F or below (5°C / 41°F or below).
Always use batch preparation when preparing meat. Only take as much from the refrigerator as you can prepare in a short amount of time.
Prepare meat and meat products away from fresh produce. If you need to use the same area in your kitchen, prepare the fresh produce first, then clean and sanitize all surfaces, equipment and utensils before preparing the meat.
Always clean and sanitize surfaces, equipment and utensils after preparing meat and meat products.
Raw or undercooked meat can cause food poisoning. The higher the temperature at the centre of the meat, the lower the risk.
As a general rule, meat should be cooked to a minimum internal temperature of 74°C / 165°F or above (82°C / 180°F or above); however, safe cooking temperatures vary depending on the type and cut of meat.
Recommended safe cooking temperatures for different types and cuts of meat are listed below:
- Whole cuts or pieces of beef, lamb and veal should be cooked to 63°C / 145°F or above for at least three minutes.
- Ground red meats (e.g. burgers, meatballs, sausages) should be cooked to 71°C /160°F or above for at least 15 seconds.
- Mechanically tenderized beef should be cooked to 63°C / 145°F or above (71°C / 160°F or above) for at least 15 seconds.
- Pork should be cooked to 71°C / 160°F or above (82°C / 180°F or above) for at least 15 seconds.
- Game meats (e.g. venison, bison, rabbit, duck) should be cooked to 74°C / 165°F or above (82°C / 180°F or above) for at least 15 seconds.
Never guess about food temperatures — always use a food thermometer to check the internal temperature of meat.
Always purchase poultry from a supplier that has been approved by local authorities. Poultry should be delivered refrigerated or frozen. Always check the temperature.
- Refrigerated poultry must be 4°C / 40°F or below (5°C / 41°F or below).
- Frozen poultry must be -18°C / 0°F or below.
The flesh of poultry should be firm to touch and not soft. There should not be any stickiness or discolouring — always check around the wings and joints to be sure.
Reject poultry products if there are any abnormal odours. If your local jurisdiction requires it, check the packaging to ensure that the poultry you have purchased meets the required grade.
Poultry and poultry products should be wrapped in airtight packages and may be frozen or refrigerated.
- Refrigerated poultry must be stored at 4°C / 40°F or below (5°C / 41°F or below).
- Frozen poultry must be stored at -18°C / 0°F or below.
Poultry and poultry products must be stored on the bottom shelf of the fridge so that they don’t drip onto and contaminate other foods. This is especially important if you store pre-cooked or ready-to-eat foods in the same refrigerator. Use fresh poultry stored in the refrigerator within one to two days.
Thawing some frozen poultry products, such as whole turkeys, can take days so be sure to prepare in advance. Poultry should be thawed on the bottom shelf of the refrigerator. Allow at least 24 hours of thawing time for every 2.5kg.
If you must thaw poultry under cold running water, completely submerge the item (in leak-proof, waterproof packaging) under cold running water. Thawing must be completed in two hours or less. Please note: This is not a recommended method for thawing poultry.
Poultry may be refrozen if ice crystals are still present on the exterior. Never refreeze poultry that has not been stored in the refrigerator.
Always use batch preparation when preparing poultry. Only take as much from the refrigerator as you can prepare in a short amount of time.
Try to prepare poultry and poultry products away from fresh produce. If you need to use the same area in your kitchen, prepare the fresh produce first, then clean and sanitize all surfaces, equipment and utensils before preparing the poultry.
Always clean and sanitize surfaces, equipment and utensils after preparing poultry and poultry products.
Always use a probe thermometer to check the temperature of poultry when cooking. When cooking whole birds, place the thermometer under the drumstick as this area takes longest to heat up.
Below are recommended cooking temperatures for poultry:
- Whole poultry should be cooked to 82°C / 180°F or above.
- Ground poultry and pieces of poultry should be cooked to 74°C / 165°F or above (82°C / 180°F or above).
If preparing stuffing, cook this separately from the poultry, as it can act as an insulator and prevent the internal temperature from reaching the required levels.
Fish may be delivered live, refrigerated or frozen. Always check the temperature.
- Refrigerated fish must be 4°C / 40°F or below (5°C / 41°F or below).
- Frozen fish must be -18°C / 0°F or below.
Some food businesses may receive live fish that are placed into tanks until they are prepared. Check that fish delivered to your business has:
- firm flesh
- bright shiny skin 9 bright eyes
Reject fish that has:
- soft flesh
- a strong fishy odour
- sunken eyes
Always buy fish from an approved supplier.
Fish may be kept live, refrigerated or frozen.
- Refrigerated fish must be stored at 4°C / 40°F or below (5°C / 41°F or below).
- Frozen fish must be stored at -18°C / 0°F or below.
Bear in mind that fish that is frozen for too long may become damaged and unusable.
Live fish must be stored in well-maintained tanks with clean water, suitable for the type of fish being stored. Do not mix saltwater and freshwater fish in the same tank. Tanks should be aerated and dead fish should be removed from tanks immediately.
Always thaw frozen fish in the refrigerator at a temperature of 4°C / 40°F or below (5°C / 41°F or below). Never refreeze thawed fish.
Always use batch preparation when preparing fish. Only remove from the refrigerator an amount that you can prepare in a small amount of time and then prepare the rest later.
Fish should always be cooked to 70°C / 158°F or above for at least 15 seconds.
Always warn customers who request raw fish, or fish that is “cooked” using a high-acid marinade such as ceviche, that cooking the fish to the required temperature is the only way to ensure that it is safe to eat.
Sushi & Sashimi
Sushi and sashimi includes fish that is to be consumed raw, marinated or partially cooked.
Parasites can be found on many types of raw fish. It’s important to kill these parasites before serving the fish to customers.
Freshwater fish such as bass, trout and catfish should not be used for sushi or sashimi as they carry such a high number of parasites. Some saltwater fish such as cod and salmon can also carry a lot of parasites.
Fish intended to be used as sushi or sashimi should always be bought in a frozen state from a reputable supplier. For each order that is received, check with the supplier the temperature at which the fish has been kept and for how long.
Fish used for sushi and sashimi should be firm and springy to touch. It should not smell fishy.
There are two methods that can be used to kill parasites on sushi fish:
- Freeze the fish to -20°C / -4°F for 7 days or longer.
- Use a blast freezer to freeze the fish to -35°C / -31°F or below for at least 15 hours.
Note that both methods require a lower temperature than conventional freezing (-18°C / 0°F).
Remember that your supplier may have already frozen the fish as per one of these methods, which is why it’s important to check.
Always thaw frozen sushi fish in the refrigerator at a temperature of 4°C / 40°F or below (5°C / 41°F or below). Never refreeze thawed fish.
Prepare fish to be used in sushi or sashimi as soon as possible after thawing.
Shellfish (e.g. mussels, clams, crabs and lobsters) should be purchased live from a reputable supplier and received at a temperature of 4°C / 40°F or below (5°C / 41°F or below).
For bivalve molluscs (e.g. mussels, clams and oysters), check that the shells are unbroken and unopened. Opened shells indicate that the shellfish are dead.
For lobsters, check that the tail curls up when you pick them up.
Shellfish should be rejected if there are any strong odours such as a strong fishy smell.
Store shellfish in the original containers in which they were delivered and well away from other types of food. Shellfish should be kept in the refrigerator at 4°C / 40°F or below (5°C / 41°F or below).
Many people are allergic to shellfish so you need to pay extra attention when storing to prevent cross-contamination.
Always keep receipts and any stock identification tags for at least 90 days.
As shellfish is a common allergen, it’s important to clean and sanitize all surfaces, equipment and utensils before and after preparation.
If other food becomes contaminated with even a small amount of shellfish, a customer could experience a strong allergic reaction (anaphylactic shock) and may die.
The recommended safe cooking temperature for shellfish is 74°C / 165°F, unless it is intended to be served raw.
If cooked through, you should observe the following:
- Shrimp, scallops, crab and lobster: flesh becomes firm and clear
- Clams, mussels and oysters: shells open during cooking (throw out any that don’t open)
Sour, rancid or fishy odours in spoiled shellfish become stronger after cooking.
If you smell sour, rancid or fishy odours — or an odour that smells like ammonia — in a cooked shellfish dish, do not serve it.
Some types of shellfish (e.g. oysters) are commonly eaten raw. If you offer raw or marinated shellfish at your food business, you should warn customers that cooking is the only way to assure safety.
If you are using shellfish to flavour soups, stocks, broths or sauces, or if you include small amounts of shellfish in other dishes, then you must advise customers of this so that those with allergies to shellfish can select other options from the menu.
Eggs & Egg Products
Always purchase eggs from an approved reputable supplier. Check for the following:
- shells are clean and uncracked
- there are no strong odours
- eggs are delivered chilled at a temperature of 4°C / 40°F or below (5°C / 41°F or below)
- the “best before” date is in the future
Only purchase enough eggs to last one or two weeks, and never use eggs after the best before date.
Whole eggs should be stored in the refrigerator at a temperature of 4°C / 40°F or below (5°C / 41°F or below).
If required, eggs can be broken out of their shells and frozen. Whole eggs and egg whites freeze easily. Yolks can become gelatinous if frozen alone — add salt, sugar or corn syrup to prevent this.
Always follow First In, First Out (FIFO) principles for storing eggs. This means that you should use older eggs first, and newer eggs later.
Eggs should be thawed in the refrigerator at 4°C / 40°F or below (5°C / 41°F or below). Never refreeze eggs that are thawed or partially thawed.
Thawed egg whites should be used within 5 days. Thawed yolks and egg mixtures should be used within 3 days.
Eggs are responsible for many food-borne illness outbreaks every year. They are a major cause of salmonella poisoning worldwide.
Careful preparation can help to reduce this risk within your food business. Use the following rules to help protect your customers:
Never serve raw or partially cooked eggs to customers — either whole or in a food mixture such as a mayonnaise or sauce.
Use pasteurized eggs and egg products when preparing any of the following:
dressings or other non-cooked foods
foods that contain eggs which are not cooked to 74°C / 165°F or above (82°C / 180°F or above) (e.g. meringues)
foods that are to be served to high-risk groups*
Always inspect the eggs that you are using. Egg whites should cling to the yolk and the yolk should not break up easily. Be careful not to let the egg whites or yolk touch the exterior of the shell. If this happens, discard the food you are preparing and make a new batch.
If you are pooling eggs (e.g. mixing two or more eggs together), use this mixture immediately.
If you are using reconstituted egg products, use these immediately.
Always clean and sanitize surfaces, equipment and utensils before, after and in between preparing batches of eggs.
*High-risk groups include pregnant women, children, the elderly and sick or immunocompromised people.
Eggs, and dishes containing eggs, should be cooked to a temperature of 74°C / 165°F or above (82°C / 180°F or above).
If you offer runny egg yolks as an option at your food business, you should warn customers that all pathogens are not completely destroyed until the egg yolk is solid.
Always buy milk and other dairy products from an approved supplier.
Never use unpasteurized milk or milk products in your food business. Unpasteurized milk is responsible for a large number of deaths worldwide each year.
Dairy products should be received at a temperature of 4°C / 40°F or below (5°C / 41°F or below). Reject any dairy products that do not meet the required temperature or that have a strong odour.
Most dairy products must be refrigerated at 4°C / 40°F or below (5°C / 41°F or below). UHT (longlife) dairy products must also be refrigerated after opening.
Ice cream has different storage requirements to other dairy products.
If possible, store ice cream between -12°C and -14°C (10°F - 7°F), which is a warmer temperature than a regular freezer. Ice cream should be stored in containers with tightly fitting lids and kept away from foods with strong odours.
Serve milk and cream in the sealed containers in which they were delivered or in food-grade, covered pitchers.
Always discard any products that have been removed from their original containers and not consumed, or that have been kept at room temperature for more than two hours.
Ice cream scoops should be kept in cold, running, potable water between serves. Be careful not to mix scoops used for ice creams and sorbets. Some customers may order sorbet as they are allergic to the dairy products found in ice cream.
Fruit & Vegetables
Fresh produce, such as fruits and vegetables, may be received refrigerated or at room temperature.
Check for the following:
- produce is brightly coloured
- there are no unpleasant odours
- there are no signs of damage from insects or mould
- flesh is firm to touch and not soft from spoilage
Fruits and vegetables should be stored at room temperature, or refrigerated at 4°C / 40°F or below (5°C / 41°F or below).
These products can sometimes be frozen. You may need to take extra steps, such as blanching vegetables, before freezing in order to prevent them from going mushy once thawed.
There is no need to wash fruit and vegetables before storage.
Frozen fruits and vegetables should be thawed in the refrigerator at a temperature of 4°C / 40°F or below (5°C / 41°F or below). Use thawed produce within 48 hours and do not refreeze after thawing.
Wash all fruits and vegetables in running, potable water before preparation.
Don’t forget to wash produce with skins, peels and rinds. Contaminants on the outside of such produce can be introduced to the inside when the produce is cut open.
For leafy products (e.g spinach, lettuce), peel off and wash each leaf separately. Pay extra attention to folds or crinkles in the leaves where microorganisms can be hard to reach and remove.
If you notice part of the fruit or vegetable is rotten, either discard the whole item or remove the rotten part. Always clean and sanitize your knife and cutting board after removing any rotten sections before continuing with preparation.
Many fruits and vegetables are not cooked before consumption. This means that there is no opportunity to reduce the number of pathogens to a safe level. For this reason, it’s important to ensure that produce does not come into contact with any surfaces, equipment or utensils that have been used for other potentially hazardous foods such as meat, fish or eggs.
Most bakery products are not considered to be potentially hazardous foods. However, you must be careful when serving bakery products that are filled with custard or cream.
When serving these products, ensure equipment and utensils used to handle them are cleaned and sanitized afterwards. Try to minimize the amount of contact you have with bare hands.
Salads & Sandwiches
Salads and sandwiches are considered to be potentially hazardous foods because there’s no cooking step involved to kill off harmful microorganisms.
Always prepare salads and sandwiches from refrigerated ingredients. If you are using leftovers as filling, you need to be certain that these items have been cooked, held, stored and cooled at the correct temperatures.
If you are using other potentially hazardous foods (e.g. meat, fish, poultry, eggs), ensure that the salad or sandwich is consumed within 24 hours of preparation.
Never use homemade mayonnaise in sandwiches or salads, and always minimize contact with your bare hands during preparation.
Food mixtures include products such as:
- salad dressings
Ideally the components of these food mixtures should be stored separately and mixed together just before use.
However, if you must store the food mixtures, they may be frozen or held in a refrigerator at 4°C / 40°F or below (5°C / 41°F or below).
Note that freezing food mixtures for long periods can cause damage and make them unusable.
Thaw food mixtures in the refrigerator at a temperature of 4°C / 40°F or below (5°C / 41°F or below).
Do not refreeze thawed or partially thawed products. Use thawed food mixtures within 36 hours of thawing.
Whenever possible, prepare food mixtures just before they will be consumed.
Many sauces and other food mixtures contain potentially hazardous ingredients. Ensure that utensils and equipment are cleaned and sanitized before and after each batch is prepared.
Homemade mayonnaise causes a large number of food- borne illness outbreaks each year. It’s recommended that you do not prepare mayonnaise at your food business — use a commercially prepared product instead.
Food mixtures that contain potentially hazardous ingredients, such as milk, eggs, fish and meat, should be cooked to a minimum internal temperature of 74°C / 165°F (82°C / 180°F) for 15 seconds or longer.
Cook sauces and dressings separately from other ingredients such as meat. These sauces can act as an insulator and prevent the internal temperature of the meat from reaching the required level.
Use freshly prepared food mixtures within 36 hours. When reheating food mixtures, ensure that the same temperature is reached as when cooking.
Stuffing is considered potentially hazardous as it’s often cooked with potentially hazardous foods such as poultry or meat.
Plus it can act as an insulator if cooked inside the meat, preventing the meat from reaching the required internal temperature.
For this reason, stuffing must always be cooked separately from meat. Cook stuffing to a minimum internal temperature of 74°C / 165°F (82°C / 180°F) for at least 15 seconds.
Breads & Batters
Breads and batters are both potentially hazardous foods — especially if they contain eggs or other dairy products. Batters and breading are often used to coat meat, poultry, fish or other potentially hazardous foods.
When preparing batters and breading, use pasteurized eggs or egg products instead of unpasteurized shell eggs.
Prepare in small batches that can be used quickly and never mix batches. If you have already used a batch of batter or breading for dipping, any leftovers must be discarded immediately. Don’t store leftovers for reuse later.
It’s safer to use commercially prepared frozen batters and breading products than to prepare your own.
Batters and breading can appear to be golden and fully cooked, even if the product being coated is not. They can also act as insulators, preventing the food that they’re coating from meeting the required temperature.
Always check the internal temperature of battered or breaded foods with a thermometer. The temperature that is required depends on the food being coated. Refer to the foods discussed previously in this guide for more information.