Ethnic and Specialty Foods

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The definition of “ethnic food” depends on the geographic and cultural context in which the cuisine is found. Broadly speaking, ethnic foods are defined by others outside of the respective ethnic groups as cuisines originating from the heritage and culture of specific ethnic groups. For example, Chinese food, Mexican food, Italian food, etc., are only considered to be ethnic foods outside of their respective countries. As the foreign-born population in Canada rises, so do the variety and popularity of ethnic foods, which pose a challenge for food safety professionals who are unfamiliar with these foods. Canadian census data shows that the proportion of the foreign-born population increased from 20.6% in 2011 to 21.9% in 2016. Ontario, BC, and Alberta have the largest percentage of immigrants, at 29%, 28%, and 21% respectively.

Ethnic foods are gaining popularity in Canada due to several factors: growing number of immigrants and refugees, leading to greater demand and availability of ethnic foods; globalization of food supplies; increasing international travel, contributing to wider acceptance of ethnic foods; and increasing consumption of ethnic foods at home and in restaurants. Studies involving public health inspectors revealed that there is a paucity of available information and resources on ethnic foods or awareness of existing resources.

The NCCEH has developed and compiled informational resources on ethnic foods to help public health inspectors better understand the food safety issues associated with and processes used in different ethnic foods that they may encounter during inspections. We will continue to update this page as new resources are produced or collated from other sources. If you would like to contribute to this list of resources, please let us know.

NCCEH Resources

Selected External Resources

  • Cultural Food Safety iOS App and related presentation (US Center for Agriculture and Food Security and Preparedness)
    This mobile app provides on-the-go food safety information on ethnic foods organized by geographic region, religion, processing method, and US regulatory guidance.
  • Food Issues: Notes from the Field (BC Centre for Disease Control)
    These documents provide evidence-based recommendations to reduce or control the food safety risks related to specific foods or food processing/preparation methods.
  • Food Safety Resources (Public Health Ontario)
    These documents provide brief reviews and case studies of food safety concerns related to the preparation and processing of certain foods, as well as recommendations to reduce potential risks and hazards for foodborne illnesses.
  • Specialty dishes and food safety concerns (University of Guelph Centre for Public Health & Zoonoses, 2011)
    These fact sheets cover specialty ethnic foods and the risks, regulations, and recommendations related to these dishes.
  • Ethnic Foods and the Sanitarian (Food Safety Magazine, 2009)
    This article discusses how to approach food safety assessment of unfamiliar ethnic foods from the perspective of public health inspectors.


Last updated Mar 29, 2019