Food Safety Overview
Food Safety (in terms of buying, storing, handling, cooking and re-storing) is very important to your child's health. Get it wrong and your child could have a very serious case of food poisoning or a gastro infection. On rare occasions this can lead to a fatal catastrophic organ failure. Children are especially vulnerable to these sorts of illnesses because of their reduced immune system. A New York Times report found that children under four are the most likely age group to get food poisoning.
If your child has food poisoning the symptoms would typically be vomiting, diarrhoea and nausea. Other symptoms may be stomach pains and fever-type symptoms. This can take 1 to 3 days after eating contaminated food and usually takes 1-2 days to recover. If you are in any doubt as to your child's well being or especially if there is blood in vomit or stools or severe dehydration then you must seek urgent medical advice.
Food Borne Bacteria Overview
There are over two hundred known food-borne diseases and illnesses. The 3 main types of bacteria that infect food are Salmonella, E-coli and Campylobacter. In warmer conditions, a thousand germs can multiply into over a million germs in about 2 hours!
Very brief descriptions of these 3 main bacteria types are given below:
This is the main risk for children and adults alike. Salmonella can enter the bloodstream thereby causing potentially life-threatening infections to other parts of your child's body. It has been reported that certain strains of salmonella bacteria pose a 1 in 15 chance of death to children. This bacteria comes from bird and animal intestines and is passed on usually by animal's faeces. Eating eggs and chicken is a particular concern, especially those that come from factory or battery conditions. Even the freshest best grade eggs can contain this bacteria so the recommendation is never to eat raw or undercooked eggs or chicken and to always thoroughly cook them.
EColi (actually 'Escherichia coli')
The E-Coli bacteria is actually native in very small quantities in your own intestines and is quite normal there. Eating larger quantities via contaminated food (the bacteria is from animal intestines and is again passed on usually by animal's faeces onto contaminated food) may cause infection into the bloodstream. This can cause serious kidney problems, gastroenteritis, urinary tract infections, and possibly meningitis.
The Campylobacter bacteria comes from animal intestines and is passed on usually by animal's faeces. Children can pick it up from contaminated food or from contaminated water near animal grazing areas.
Tips for Food Safety
Buying food and bringing it home
- Buy chilled/frozen foods last and make sure you get home to get it refrigerated within 2 hours
- If you know you will not go immediately home or have a longer journey then consider rearranging your plans and buying it on the way home. If this is not possible, a cool-box in the car could be used for chilled items.
- Avoid buying fruit and vegetables if the skin is broken
- Check 'sell by' dates on food (don't try to save money with nearly out of date food)
- Make sure food isn't off (e.g. a bad smell or visually discoloured) especially meats
- Separate raw meat, fish and poultry into separate bags from the rest of the shopping
- Put chilled foods away first when you get home
- Store foods correctly as per the labels (dairy foods must go in the fridge, for example)
- Never buy unpasteurized fruit juices. These can contain E-Coli or Salmonella. Check the packaging and labels. These should never be given to children of any age.
Personal & Work Area Hygiene
- Always wash your hands before preparing or eating food and after any contact with birds or animals or even after playing in the garden. Train children to do the same. Try and wash for 20 seconds.
- Regularly clean utensils, cutlery, work surfaces, bowls and dishes and especially before using for food
- At least once (and preferably twice) a year give your kitchen area a really good clean including all 'not easily accessible' areas
- Consider tying back long hair and wearing aprons when preparing or cooking food that may contaminate other foods (raw meats, raw eggs, raw poultry and raw shellfish)
- Always wash clothing or aprons after having prepared raw meats, eggs, poultry or shellfish
- Use a different towel for drying hands and drying the pots (making them different colours is a good rule of thumb). Train your children which is which.
- Don't allow dirty items on food work surfaces (school bags, pets, car parts etc.). Train your children too.
Food Preparation & Separation
- Wash fruit and vegetables thoroughly before storing and eating.
- Avoid cross contamination between certain types of raw uncooked foods (raw meats, eggs, poultry or shellfish) and other foodstuffs. Always thoroughly wash work surfaces, plates and utensils after having prepared raw meats, eggs, poultry or shellfish and make sure any surfaces they touch are thoroughly decontaminated before putting other foods anywhere near. Don't put other foods on the same plate or use the same utensils as the above raw foods
- Do a quick visual check for 'use by' dates on the food and also for visual signs of mould, off odours, before preparing. Throw away anything that doesn't seem right.
Cooking & Eating Guidelines
- Buy chilled/frozen foods last and make sure you get home to get it refrigerated within a few hours
- Throw away fruit and vegetables if the skin is broken
- Never allow your child to eat undercooked (runny) eggs. Make sure they are thoroughly cooked
- Never allow your child to eat undercooked chicken or fish. Make sure there is NO pink inside and they are thoroughly cooked
- When reheating surplus food make sure it is thoroughly heated i.e. steaming hot. Allow to cool slightly though for your child!
- Never allow your child to eat food that have visually gone off or doesn't taste quite right (sour milk, mouldy bread etc.). Do a quick visual check before eating or cooking.
- Make sure certain foods are cooked to a minimum temperature by using a food thermometer in the thickest part of the foodstuff. You can't easily tell visually if items are fully cooked.
- Chicken/Turkey and Chicken/Turkey dishes 165F , 74 C
- Eggs and Egg dishes 160 F , 71 C
- Leftovers and Casseroles 165 F , 74 C
- Steaks : Pork, Veal, Lamb and Beef 145 F, 63 C with 3 minute rest time
- Minced or Ground : Pork, Veal, Lamb and Beef 160 F , 74 C
- When thawing, always thaw meat, fish & poultry in the fridge and not at room temperature or defrost in the microwave & cook immediately
- Keep the fridge at approximately 40F, 4 C using an internal thermometer as some bacteria can thrive at low temperatures (listeria is one).
- Meats, dairy products and chopped up fruit and vegetables must go in the fridge. Other foods too as per food label guidelines.
- Keep the fridge clean, wipe spills up immediately and give it a good clean on a regular basis. If your fridge smells then it desperately needs a clean or food needs throwing out. Act quickly.
- Put surplus foods after your meal into the fridge as soon as you can, especially in hot weather. If you are freezing, try to freeze in portion size.
- After use, don't leave foods on tables or work surfaces without covering them up (if you intend to use them again)
- Always keep certain perishable foods (ones that go off easily) in the fridge.
- Store foods that need chilling or freezing in the correct places by following the storage guidelines on the food label
- Packed lunches : We would strongly recommend School Meals for various reasons (see our reasons here in the articles on 'PACKED LUNCHES' and 'SCHOOL MEALS') but if you do decide to send your child to school with a packed lunch then pre-chill & use an insulated lunch box with a minimum of 2 frozen cold packs. Train your child to put their lunchbox in the school refrigerator if there is one. Always throw surplus food away from packed lunches.
- Always keep dairy foods in a fridge and covered up
Food Safety is an important topic to know about both for you and your child because it could save your child's life. It's that important. Children under 4 are the most likely people to get food poisoning so it is important you do your absolute best to help prevent it and recognise the symptoms if it does happen.
Information from the UK National Health Service on when to seek medical advice (basically if you suspect your child has food poisoning, you should seek professional medical advice). Topics include 'Signs and symptoms', 'What to do' and 'How is food contaminated?'
This U.S. Food Safety Website has lots of information on all aspects of food safety. This includes 'check your steps', 'charts - food safety at a glance', 'By Types of Food', 'By Events and Seasons', 'In an Emergency' and 'What the Government Does to Keep Food Safe'.
This resource has a short video about food safety. It includes information about raw meat and poultry, kitchen hygiene, utilisation of separate chopping boards, cooking safety and temperatures. There is also a link to the full text article 'Here are our top tips to keep you and your family safe' and 'When is it safe to cook rare?'