Produce safety

Eating a variety of vegetables and fruits may lower your risk of heart disease. Canada's food guide encourages people living in Canada to eat plenty of vegetables and fruits. Try making half of your plate vegetables and fruits.

While the food we eat in Canada is among the safest in the world, food contaminated by bacteria, viruses and parasites (foodborne pathogens) can make you sick. Every year, 1 in 8 people (4 million people living in Canada) get sick each year from contaminated food. Because a lot of fresh produce is not cooked before being consumed, it's important to handle it safely to prevent it being contaminated with harmful microorganisms. Protect your family from food poisoning by following some simple rules.

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Health risks

Fresh vegetables and fruits do not naturally contain microorganisms (e.g., bacteria, viruses and parasites) that can cause food poisoning. However, fresh produce can become contaminated in the field through contact with soil, contaminated water, wild or domestic animals, or improperly composted manure. It can also come into contact with harmful microorganisms during and after harvest if it is not properly handled, stored, and transported. In addition, vegetables and fruits can become contaminated through contact with raw food items such as meat, poultry, seafood, and their juices. This can happen at the grocery store, in the shopping cart, in the refrigerator, or on counters and cutting boards in the kitchen.

In Canada, there have been outbreaks of foodborne illness tied to eating cantaloupes, tomatoes, leafy greens (i.e., iceberg lettuce, spinach, and pre-cut ready-to-eat salad) and fresh herbs, such as basil.

The groups at higher risk for serious health effects include pregnant women, children under the age of 5, adults over the age of 60, and people with weakened immune systems. You should see a health care professional and contact your local public health unit as soon as possible if you think you have a foodborne illness.

Safety tips

While much is being done at the farms and in the grocery stores to make sure that fresh produce is safe, there are still steps we can take in our homes to help prevent foodborne illnesses. By making sure that vegetables and fruits are properly handled, prepared and stored, you can enjoy the healthy benefits of these foods and help prevent foodborne illnesses. Follow the safety tips below to protect your family.


  • Buy cold or frozen food at the end of your shopping trip.
  • Examine vegetables and fruits carefully and avoid buying items that are bruised or damaged.
  • If buying pre-cut or ready-to-eat vegetables and fruit be sure they have been properly refrigerated at 4°C (40 °F) or below. This means they should be displayed in a refrigerated container and not just sitting on top of ice.
  • Separate fresh vegetables and fruit from meat, poultry and seafood products in the shopping cart and bags.
  • Wash your reusable grocery bags frequently. Clean and sanitize your grocery bins often.

Some produce should be avoided especially for pregnant women, children under the age of 5adults over the age of 60, and people with weakened immune systems.


It is extremely important to 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 related illness.

  • When you get home, freeze the frozen vegetables and fruits that need to be kept frozen. Make sure your freezer is set at -18 °C (0 °F) or lower.
  • Refrigerate the vegetables and fresh fruits that need refrigeration. This includes all pre-cut and ready-to-eat produce. Ask your grocer if you are not certain whether specific items need to be refrigerated.
  • When you refrigerate vegetables and fruits, keep them separate from meat, poultry, seafood, and their juices.
  • Make sure your refrigerator is set at 4 °C (40 °F) or lower. This will keep your food out of the temperature danger zone between 4 °C (40 °F) to 60 °C (140 °F) where bacteria can grow quickly.
  • Refrigerate cooked vegetable leftovers promptly. Eat leftovers within 2 to 3 days or freeze for later use.


  • Wash your hands with soap and warm water for at least 20 seconds.
  • Cut away any bruised or damaged areas on vegetables and fruits, since harmful bacteria can thrive in these areas. Cut produce needs to be refrigerated, frozen or eaten right away. Be sure to clean your knife with hot water and soap before using it again.
  • Wash vegetables and fruits thoroughly under fresh, cool, running water, even if you plan to peel them. This helps prevent the spread of any bacteria that may be present. This is a general safety tip that may not always apply. For example, you do not need to wash a banana before peeling and eating it. However, if you plan to leave the peel on and cut the banana into pieces, you need to wash the banana first.
  • Use a clean produce brush to scrub items that have firm surfaces like oranges, melons, potatoes, carrots, etc. It is not necessary to use a produce wash to clean fresh vegetables and fruits.
  • Ready-to-eat, pre-washed leafy greens in sealed containers do not need to be washed again before eating. However, leafy greens sold in unsealed bags or containers should be washed before eating.
  • Use one cutting board for produce, and a separate one for raw meat, poultry, fish and seafood.
  • Place peeled or cut vegetables and fruits on a separate clean plate or into a clean container to prevent them from becoming cross-contaminated.
  • Change kitchen cloths and towels daily or use paper towels to wipe kitchen surfaces to avoid the risk of cross-contamination and the spread of bacteria. Avoid using sponges, as they are harder to keep bacteria-free.
  • Sanitize countertops, cutting boards and utensils before and after preparing food. Use a kitchen sanitizer (following the directions on the container) or a bleach solution (5 ml / 1 tsp of unscented household bleach to 750 ml / 3 cups of water), and rinse with water.


  • In Canada and around the world, there have been outbreaks of foodborne illness linked to frozen packaged vegetables that were not cooked prior to being eaten.
  • Therefore, it is important to use proper handling of frozen packaged vegetables to reduce the risk of foodborne illness.
  • Most frozen packaged vegetables need to be cooked. Cook them according to their package directions before eating them or using them in other dishes.
    • Just thawing and eating them could put you and your family at risk for foodborne illness because they may be contaminated with harmful microorganisms.
    • If you're using these vegetables in other dishes that will be served cold, like a bean and corn salad or smoothies, first cook the frozen packaged vegetables, cool them in cold water, then drain well before using.
  • Soothing your teething baby with frozen vegetables straight from the package is not a good idea. Frozen vegetables may be contaminated with harmful microorganisms and could cause foodborne illness. Give your baby an approved teether instead.

How the Government of Canada protects you

The Government of Canada is committed to food safety. Health Canada establishes regulations and standards relating to the safety and nutritional quality of foods sold in Canada. Through inspection and enforcement activities, the Canadian Food Inspection Agency verifies that food sold in Canada meets Health Canada's requirements.

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