Food safety awareness isn’t just for adults — the earlier you can teach your children about food safety, the better. Luckily, the United States Department of Agriculture and the Food Safety and Inspection Service have a variety of materials for guardians and educators to help children learn how to cook and handle food in a safe and hygienic manner.
During the summer season, it’s especially important to make sure that your entire family understands how to recognize signs of food poisoning, as well as the conditions in which the risk of contamination is high. This is because the rates of foodborne illness peak in the summer, when the combination of warm temperatures and humidity creates an ideal growth environment for bacteria.
What’s more, because many people enjoy cooking outdoors in the summer, we also lose the safety of temperature-controlled cooking and reliable refrigeration, not to mention soap and water.
To make sure that you and your family enjoy the summer — and every outdoor picnic — as much as possible, keep these food safety basics in mind. It might help to have your kids think of foodborne illness as an invisible enemy “BAC,” short for “bacteria,” which can’t be seen, heard, smelled, or tasted — but can be defeated with the right food safety habits. And when you need it, don’t be afraid to ask for help.
Wash your hands and surfaces. It sounds like common sense, but according to the Food Safety and Inspection Service, unwashed hands are a prime cause of foodborne illness. Make sure that your family washes their hands for at least 20 seconds before handling food, after using the restroom, changing diapers, or handling pets.
Backpacks and books, which can pick up microorganisms, should stay on the floor, not the kitchen table or counter.
For visits to the park, camping trips, or other outdoor activities, make sure your kids have moist towelettes and paper towels for cleaning their hands and wiping down surfaces. Finally, pack water for food preparation and cleaning if you’re concerned about a lack of clean, running water.
The best way to avoid cross-contamination — another key source of foodborne illness — is to separate food the right way. When packing food, make sure that raw items are securely wrapped and do not come in contact with ready-to-eat foods.
Teach children to think of foodborne illness as BAC, an invisible enemy who has the power to make them sick. However, they also have the power to “fight BAC” and avoid cross contamination: be smart, keep foods apart. Get your kids into the habit of washing all cutting boards, dishes, and utensils with hot soapy water after they make a snack, especially any that involve raw items.