According to Foodsafety.gov, “children under the age of five are at an increased risk for foodborne illness and related health complications because their immune systems are still developing.” Serious food infections such as salmonella and E. coli are seen more often in children younger than the age of five. Because children’s immune systems are not fully developed, and they produce less bacteria-killing stomach acid than adults, food safety for young children is an important concern.
Here are food safety tips to help keep your child’s mealtimes safe.
Before you cook
Before preparing food, be sure to wash your hands with warm, soapy water. Wash again if you stop to use the bathroom, touch a pet, change a diaper, or anything else that can introduce contamination. If handling raw meat, poultry, eggs, fish, and shellfish, wash hands afterwards as well. Use separate cutting boards for raw meat, poultry, eggs, fish, or shellfish to avoid the risk of cross-contamination, and wash anything that comes into contact with those foods.
Young children can help in the kitchen, but prevent them from touching the raw food mentioned above. Raw cookie dough and cake batter can also pose a safety risk to children because of the uncooked eggs inside.
Cook all food to the proper temperature to ensure harmful bacteria is killed. Invest in a good food thermometer, as it isn’t always easy to tell if something is cooked just by looking at it.
Foodsafety.gov has a handy chart of safe minimum cooking temperatures for your reference.
Along with raw or undercooked meat, poultry, eggs, fish, and shellfish, unpasteurized foods and beverages pose a risk to children. These include unpasteurized milk, honey, and cheese.
During the meal
Before eating, ensure every member of the family washes their hands as well.
Food should be consumed as soon as possible after preparing it. Keep hot food at a minimum of 140°F, and cold foods at a maximum of 40°F.
Be conscious of the size of the food your child is putting into their mouth. Certain food can pose a choking hazard to children younger than the age of four, including sticky food, slippery food, and small firm food. Examples of hard-to-swallow foods include popcorn, peanuts, hot dog slices, marshmallows, chunky peanut butter, gummy candies, large pieces of raw vegetables, grapes, and cherry tomatoes. To reduce the risk, cut up food into small pieces smaller than half an inch, and monitor your child while they eat. Ensure they don’t walk, run, lie down, or play as they eat.
Food should be refrigerated within two hours or less. Food that has cooled to room temperature may be in the “Danger Zone” – between 40° and 140°F – where bacteria can grow rapidly. Store leftovers in the fridge or freezer as soon as possible, and ensure that raw food is stored separately from cooked food. Raw food should be kept on a lower shelf to avoid dripping onto other food below.