Food safety is always a major concern, but it is especially important where there are children. This applies to both the foods you prepare and serve the children and the foods you let them handle. While you need to be careful at all times, warm weather can bring some special challenges. Here are some suggestions for avoiding food-borne illness at you child care facility.
Always wash you hands and have the children wash their hands before handling food. This is especially important after using the bathroom, blowing the nose or touching animals. If you have a cut or infection on your hands, wear rubber gloves.
Avoid cross-contamination. Cross-contamination occurs when you hands and/or equipment carry bacteria from one food to another. For example, don't put cooked meats on the same platter the uncooked meat was on, and don't cut salad ingredients with the same knife and cutting board you just used to cut raw poultry.
Keeping linens (dish cloths and towels) clean. Linens can also carry bacteria so use them only for kitchen equipment and utensils. To wipe and dry children's and your hands, use paper towels; then throw them away.
Watching Time and Temperature
Keep hot foods hot and cold foods cold. Bacteria thrive at temperatures between 40 degrees F. and 140 degrees F. If you need to hold hot food for a while before serving it, keep it at temperatures of at least 140 degrees to 165 degrees F. Keep cold foods in the refrigerator until serving time.
As a rule, foods should not be kept between 40 degrees F. and 140 degrees F. for more than two hours. This includes the time it takes foods to cool down to 40 degrees F. after you put them in the refrigerator and the time it takes to heat foods up to 140 degrees F. Even when you shop for groceries, you need to consider the time perishable foods may sit in your car at unsafe temperatures, especially in hot weather. Always put frozen or chilled foods in the freezer or refrigerator as soon as you get them home or to the center.
If you pack a picnic, be sure to keep foods at safe temperatures. Use ice packs and insulated containers to keep cold foods cold and hot foods hot. Use foods which travel easily such as peanut butter, string cheese, breads and crackers, and fresh fruits and vegetables. Freeze boxes of juice ahead of time, and pack these with perishable foods such as yogurt, cheeses or salads to keep them cold. The juice will defrost and be ready to drink. Salads made with mayonnaise should also be kept chilled. Although commercial mayonnaise can actually inhibit bacterial growth because it contains vinegar, the other ingredients in your salad (the chicken, tuna or eggs) pose a risk.
When you use a microwave, follow the manufacturer's cooking instructions carefully. Microwave ovens do not always heat evenly, and the standing times, which may be stated in your cooking instructions, are important to help distribute the heat through the food. If you don't follow these directions, there may be cool spots in the food where bacteria can still grow.
When reheating leftovers, make sure they are completely heated through.
Be aware of the signs of food spoilage. If something looks or smells like it has gone bad, don't taste it. When it doubt, throw it out!
These tips are important for the health of both you and the children in your care. If you have any questions about food safety, call your local Cooperative Extension System center.