Nunavut creates country food safety guidelines to boost traditional menus across territory

Nunavut creates country food safety guidelines to boost traditional menus across territory

Nunavut now has food safety guidelines on how to handle and serve country food in the territory — especially to people who are already sick, or have weak immune systems.

The guidelines, titled "Serving Country Food in Government-Funded Facilities and Community Programs" was created in hopes to increase access to country food across the territory's government-funded programs, according to a nutritionist with the Department of Health.

That can include hospitals, prisons, elders centres and other community-based programs.

"We know that some facilities would like to have more country food offered to people," said nutritionist Amy Caughey.

"These guidelines are to support people to have more country food available in the facilities."

The project started as a partnership between the government's health department and Nunavut Food Security Coalition back in 2014.

Country food can include fish, caribou, muskox, seal, whale and other meat from the land. The guidelines also detail proper handling instructions for polar bear and walrus.

It includes tips on purchasing food from local hunters and trappers organizations and experienced hunters who know how to store food safely for a long time.

The recommendations also talk about proper inspection of the food itself — checking for bruises, and monitoring its storage temperature of 4 C or colder — and looking at its packaging. Safe packaging includes aluminum foil, resealable bags, and butcher paper; meanwhile garbage bags, grocery bags and cardboard are deemed unsafe for storing food.

There are also tips on how to keep the food safe during feasts.

Caughey says the department will also produce a series of instructional videos related to country food for the new year.

Pilot project at Iqaluit hospital

Patients at Qikiqtani General Hospital in Iqaluit will soon have country food on their menu three times a week, said Caughey.

This isn't the first time the hospital is serving country food. Previously, it served country food on a "special occasion" basis, said Caughey. This time, it aims to serve it regularly.

The hospital is hosting one of two pilot projects — the other in Kugluktuk's community facility — that will run for six months. The government will gather feedback, and consider expanding the country food program to other communities, said Caughey.

"We want people to have food that they like and are familiar with and enjoy when they are in hospital," said Caughey. "And we want things to support their appetite, so they can use food as part of their healing."

The hospital invited a well-known country food chef Rebecca Veevee to come train kitchen staff on how to safely handle and prepare country food.

The menu, which includes seal stew and bannock made with melted narwhal and beluga fat, was served to staff last week and received positive feedback. It's expected to be served to patients in two weeks time.

Staff will be following the country food safety guidelines.

- ANALYSIS | Seal meat may turn some stomachs, but Inuit country food is smart