Food safety for First Nations

Food safety is important. If you eat or serve food that hasn't been properly handled, you and your family could get sick. You could have stomach cramps, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, and fever. Sometimes you may think you have the stomach flu, when it is actually food poisoning.

Protect your health, and the health of your family and community: handle food safely.

Food safety tips

At home

There are many things you can do to prevent food poisoning. Handling, preparing, and storing food safely will help prevent harmful bacteria from growing on your food.

  • Clean: Wash your hands with warm, soapy water. Wash and sanitize work surfaces before and after preparing foods. Wash raw fruits and vegetables before you prepare and eat them.
  • Separate: Always keep raw meat, fish and poultry separate from cooked foods, or foods that will be eaten raw like fruits and vegetables.
  • Cook: You cannot rely on the colour or smell of food to know when your food is thoroughly cooked. Use a thermometer by inserting the food thermometer in the thickest part of the food to check if it is cooked to the recommended internal temperature.
  • Chill: Chilling food properly is important. Harmful bacteria can grow quickly when food is in the danger zone of 4°C to 60°C (40°F to 140°F). To reduce the chances of this happening, you should refrigerate or freeze cooked food within 2 hours. These recommended storage times will keep food safe to eat and prevent leftovers from spoiling. The guidelines for freezer storage are provided for quality purposes.

Hunting and gathering

Hunting and gathering are good activities for your body and health. They are also an excellent way to put traditional foods on the table, which are known to have many health benefits. When you are hunting, or gathering wild plants, berries, and vegetables, it is best to follow these food safety practices to avoid getting food poisoning:

  • After field dressing, cool the carcass by cutting it into halves, quarters, or pieces. Place the pieces in clean cloth or plastic bags and place in a cooler with ice. Keep game meat cool and covered until it is ready to be cooked, or frozen for later use.
  • Cook the meat thoroughly to the recommended internal cooking temperature to kill any bacteria or parasites that may be present.
  • Do not pick plants or berries that are near a road, construction site, or railway.
  • Pick berries that are firm and free from bruises or mould. Avoid picking plants that are wilted.

Did you know?

Pregnant women, young children, the elderly, and those with a weakened immune system are at a higher risk for food poisoning.


Fish and shellfish are low in saturated fats and cholesterol, and provide a good source of protein and essential nutrients. While they are an excellent source of nutrition, some fish and shellfish can be contaminated by toxins and harmful microorganisms found in the waters.

Here are a few tips to make sure that the fish and shellfish you eat are safe:

  • Eat smaller and younger fish.
  • Make sure fish and shellfish have not been harvested in a known contaminated area.
  • Refrigerate or freeze fish and shellfish until they are ready to be cooked.

Visit the Environment Canada website or talk to your Environmental Health Officer to find out what types of fish and shellfish are safe for you to eat.

Community events

Keeping food safe at community events can be a challenge, because large amounts of food have to be prepared and served properly. Simple things to keep in mind when preparing food to keep our families and community safe from getting food poisoning at gatherings include: good planning, proper cooking, safe transportation and serving .

Here are a few tips to protect the health of your community when preparing food:

  • Keep cold food cold at 4°C (40°F), or lower.
  • Keep hot food hot at 60°C (140°F), or higher.
  • Cook small amounts of food at a time.
  • Use clean utensils to serve food.

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