Teach children food safety

Children are now enjoying the summer holiday, spending more time at home and having greater access to food in the kitchen.

But are they safe from food safety hazards?

Do your kids wash hands before eating? Are they tall enough to use the microwave without spilling hot liquid on themselves?

Educating your children about proper food safety habits can reduce any risk of suffering a serious illness or injury in the home, say Department of Environmental Health staff.

‘All parents can help to prevent problems by teaching kids food safety routines at home,’ says Senior Food Officer Gideon Simms. ‘This will help them to safely prepare snacks and meals when adults aren’t home to supervise.’

The risk of food-borne illnesses can also be reduced if parents stock foods that require no heating, such as peanut butter; jams and jellies; breads, crackers, and cereals; washed fruits and vegetables; dried meats such as beef jerky; and canned meat or poultry products which should be eaten immediately after opening.

It’s also important to teach kids to frequently wash their hands. Hand-washing has proven to be the number one method of preventing the transmittance of bacteria, Mr Simms explains.

Children should wash their hands for 20 seconds – using antibacterial soap and warm water – before they eat; after playing with pets; after using the bathroom; and after sneezing, coughing, or nose-blowing.

Even if children are old enough to prepare food without adult supervision, they should still follow these guidelines:

• Return perishable foods to the refrigerator promptly after use. Don’t let them sit on the counter.

• Keep food preparation areas in the kitchen clean, before and after use.

• Keep raw meats, such as beef, poultry and seafood, separate from cooked foods.

• If you are using a microwave, stir the food halfway through to ensure thorough heating.

• Keep all dairy products, such as milk and yogurt, refrigerated.

• Never eat food that has a funny taste or smell.

• Use food within the recommended dates.

• Make sure that cold foods are always kept cold.

• Keep hot foods hot, such as soups, stew or chili.

• Clean cutting boards, dishes, utensils and countertops with hot water and a sanitizer, or antibacterial soap.

• Don’t let pets jump up on kitchen counters.

• Don’t put cooked foods on a plate that held raw meat, poultry or seafood. Always use a clean plate.

Food safety tips for leftovers

Many kids prepare leftovers for their meals, Mr. Simms also notes. They should be instructed to follow these guidelines:

• Reheat food thoroughly, so that it is piping hot.

• Cover leftovers to prevent contamination.

• Eat leftovers within 48 hours.

• Promptly refrigerate leftovers. Cold food should be stored at 41F or colder.

• Store leftovers containing meat, fish, eggs, dairy products and rice, within two hours of cooking.

• Never reheat leftovers in a slow cooker. Gradual heating promotes bacterial growth.

Safe use of the microwave

Don’t allow children who don’t know how to read to use the microwave oven. Reading and understanding directions are extremely important. Mr Simms says that if they do use a microwave, they should follow these tips:

• Heat hot dogs until they are steaming. Pierce them with a fork before placing into the microwave oven to keep them from exploding.

• Foods and liquids heat unevenly in a microwave, so stir or rotate food midway through cooking to avoid cold spots that harbour harmful bacteria.

• Loosely cover food to be microwaved with a lid or plastic wrap; loose covers will let steam escape.

• To prevent burns, remove food carefully from the microwave oven. Use potholders and move foods away from the face before uncovering them to allow steam to escape.

Do not use plastic containers such as margarine tubs or other one-time-use containers, in the microwave. They can warp or melt, possibly introducing harmful chemicals into the food.

• Do not use metals or aluminium foil in the microwave. Use only glass or containers labelled ‘suitable for microwave use’.

• Discard leftovers if the food has been sitting at room temperature for more than one hour. When in doubt, throw it out!

If you need more information on food safety, please contact DEH staff on 949-6696.

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