December 3rd, 2021

From Our Table: Turn up the heat to avoid food poisoning

By Joanne Smith on January 28, 2020.

I know this is a food column but I’m going to share a little story with you that is not so appetizing. In fact, here’s a warning: This column may contain content some might find culinarily offensive.

A few years ago I was out at a local restaurant. My succulent Caesar salad topped with grilled chicken arrived and looked delicious. However after a few bites I noticed the chicken was pink inside. Since it was not properly cooked I sent it back. Another was soon brought out, the chicken was cooked throughly and I ate it all up enjoying every bite. Three hours later I became violently sick. I had food poisoning. I think they had taken off the uncooked chicken, recooked it then put it back on the same salad that had previously been contaminated by the inadequately cooked chicken. Hence the resulting 24 hours of violent vomiting and diarrhea. I did give the restaurant a call the next day and also let the food inspectors know so this food safety issue could be addressed and hopefully avoided in the future.

I’m telling my graphic story to emphasize that food safety is extremely important. There are too many aspects for me to cover in just one column. I would however like to focus specifically on four food safety tips for protein sources such as seafood, meat, fish and poultry.

The Government of Canada has great information on safe internal temperatures for meat along with some safety guidelines. Here are four:

Use a food thermometer

– Insert the thermometer through the thickest part of the meat, all the way to the middle, not touching any bone.

– For burgers, insert food thermometer through the side of the patty.

– Check each piece separately if you have more than one piece.

– Use a digital thermometer for more accurate readings

– There are even food thermometers you can link to an app on your phone so you can leave the probe in the food while it cooks and watch the temperature on your device. This really helps prevent overcooking while getting food to a food safe temperature.

– Wash your food thermometer thoroughly in warm soapy water rinsing well both before and after use.

Keep it clean

– Always wash your hands before and after you touch raw meat.

– Wash your hands with soap and warm water for at least 15 seconds, or with an alcohol-based hand rub.

– If you’ve used a plate or utensils to handle raw food, don’t use them again until you’ve washed them thoroughly.

– Use separate cutting boards for produce and raw meat.

– Use paper towels to wipe kitchen surfaces, or change dishcloths daily. I personally use disinfectant wipes for surfaces, handles and taps while handling raw meat. Avoid using sponges, as they are harder to keep bacteria-free.

– Sanitize countertops (on a regular basis I use a separate antibacterial cloth and spray that I keep only for washing counters), cutting boards, and utensils before and after preparing food.

Dodge the danger zone

– Keep cold food cold and hot food hot, so that your food never reaches the “temperature danger zone” where bacteria can grow quickly and cause food poisoning. Meat should be refrigerated until ready to cook. Hot food should not be left out for more then 2 hours. Avoid letting food get to the “danger zone” between 4-60 C or 40-140 F

Know safe internal cooking temperatures


Ground & pieces – 74 C (165 F)

Whole – 82 C (180 F)

Egg dishes – 74 C (165 F)


Fish – 70 C (158 F)

Shellfish – 74 C (165 F)


Medium rare – 63 C (145 F)

Medium – 71 C (160 F)

Well done – 77 C (170 F)

Ground meat – 71 C (160 F)


Pieces and whole cuts – 71 C (160 F)

A much more extensive list can be found at Safe Cooking Temperatures.

Here is a family favourite chicken recipe to try out your meat thermometer and be sure it’s cooked through to a food safe level.

Joanne Smith is a registered dietitian.

Saucy Chicken – from The Big Cook

2 lbs boneless skinless chicken breasts or thighs

3 Tbsp water

1/3 cup brown sugar

1/3 cup ketchup

2 Tbsp vinegar

1 Tbsp Worcestershire

1 package onion soup mix

Combine sauce ingredients and mix well. Put chicken in covered baking dish and pour sauce over. Bake at 350 F for 1 hour or until meat thermometer inserted in thickest part of chicken reads 165 F or 74 C.

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