The COVID-19 pandemic has kept many of us at home much more often than our usual routines. Kids, especially, have been home far more, with schools letting out early, the summer break and now millions of kids are attending school online. With kids at home more, they are also in the kitchen more. This has many parents concerned about food safety and helping their kids understand how to stay safe in the kitchen.
No matter how old your kids are, it is never too soon to teach them about food safety, foodborne illnesses, germs and good hygiene. September is national Food Safety Education Month, so why not take advantage of food safety resources? Below, Bad Food Recall offers some tips for helping your kids understand food safety.
How to Help Kids Understand Food Safety
The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) is helping families learn and practice good food safety measures at home. The FSIS recommends the tips for kids of all ages. Using Clean, Separate, Cook and Chill, parents can help their kids understand food hygiene and safety.
Kindergarten to Fifth Grade
At these young ages, it is best to start food safety education with the basics. The FSIS recommends the following:
- Clean – Encourage kids to wash their hands before touching food or clean dishes, and after playing outside or with a pet, or going to the bathroom. Teach good hand-washing techniques, including:
- Wet hands with clean warm water.
- Lather hands with soap (top, back and between fingers).
- Scrub hands for 20 seconds (that is about the same amount of time it takes to sing “Happy Birthday” twice).
- Rinse hands well with warm running water.
- Dry hands using a clean towel or paper towels.
- Separate – Teach kids to separate their personal items from food preparation areas. Keep backpacks, books or sporting equipment off kitchen counters. These items may contain bacteria or germs that can be transferred to food.
- Cook – Make sure that food is cooked properly before serving. Teach kids at a young age which foods must be cooked before eating (meat, poultry, eggs, etc.).
- Chill – Teach kids the importance of putting leftover food away quickly, as well as the importance of putting groceries away properly. Perishable food should be put away within two hours of purchase if it is not stored in a cooler. Packed lunches for school should be kept cool with an ice pack or frozen gel pack.
Sixth to Eighth Grade
Many kids in sixth through eighth grades enjoy exploring in the kitchen. Many also enjoy cooking and will try to help out. Remind your kids of the basics of food safety. You can also expand their knowledge and responsibility by doing the following:
- Clean – Encourage hand-washing for at least 20 seconds before handling food.
- Separate – Teach kids to separate raw meat and poultry from other ingredients. Explain that raw food may contain bacteria that contaminates other ingredients and could make you sick.
- Cook – If your kids like to microwave their own snacks, make sure they know how to read the food label. Go over these topics with your kids:
- How to tell if the product is already cooked.
- How to read the instructions and follow a recipe.
- The importance of stopping to rotate or stir liquid food halfway through the microwaving process.
- Only using containers that are safe for the microwave.
- Chill – Teach your kids about throwing away leftovers after a certain amount of time. If food sits out for more than two hours, it could be vulnerable to bacteria. Make sure your kids know to put leftovers away and keep snacks cool until they are ready to eat.
Ninth to 12th Grade (Teenagers)
Most teenagers enjoy being creative in the kitchen – at least every once and awhile. While basic food safety education is important, teenagers need to remember that with great power comes great responsibility. That means the more independent they are in the kitchen, the more they have to worry about food safety. To help your teenagers be safely creative, consider the following:
- Clean – Encourage hand-washing. Teenagers are often busy and multitasking, so also have hand sanitizer or disinfectant handy in the kitchen.
- Separate – Make sure your teenager knows not to cross-contaminate surfaces. Raw meat and poultry should always be separated from ready-to-eat foods. Cutting boards used to cut meat should not be used to cut fruit or vegetables.
- Cook – If your teenager really enjoys cooking and is active in the kitchen, consider putting a food safety list on the refrigerator or near the stove. You cannot tell if raw food is properly cooked just by looking at it. You need a food thermometer. Post these guidelines in your kitchen to help your teenager cook as safely as possible:
- Beef, veal, lamb and pork – Cook to 145 degrees Farenheit (F)
- Ground meats – Cook to 160 degrees F
- Eggs and egg dishes – Cook to 160 degrees F
- Poultry (chicken, turkey, etc.) – Cook to 165 degrees F
- Leftovers – Reheat to at least 165 degrees F
- Chill – Any takeout food should be eaten immediately and leftovers refrigerated within two hours. After two hours, that leftover pizza could have so many germs on it that even reheating cannot kill them all.
Importance of Food Safety At Any Age
Each year, more than 48 million people develop foodborne illnesses. Around 128,000 of those people require hospital care. What’s more, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates that 3,000 people die each year from foodborne illnesses, such as:
These illnesses, commonly just called “food poisoning” affect people of all ages. Children and older adults are more likely to experience severe illness, but anyone can suffer discomfort and possible complications from these illnesses.
What is most important is that anyone handling or preparing food is aware of good food safety and hygiene practices. When it comes to bacteria and viruses, you can never be too careful.