Whether you’re in a grocery store or in your own kitchen, safe handling and preparation of food is a fundamental priority. Making sure kids understand the importance of proper handling techniques goes a long way toward developing healthy habits for the future. Food that hasn’t been safely prepared can contain harmful bacteria like E.Coli, and lead the the spread of foodborne illnesses such as salmonella – so it’s extra important that children know the do’s and don’ts. Thankfully, with the proper techniques, you don’t have to worry about bacteria, and get back to enjoying family time in the kitchen!
Here are 8 food safety lessons you should learn when you’re young and never forget.
1. Keep it clean!
Don’t eat any fruit with broken skin – bacteria can enter through the opening and contaminate the fruit. Prior to cooking or eating raw fruits and vegetables, make sure you scrub them clean with water to remove any dirt, bacteria or pesticides. You should also remove the outer layer of leafy greens such as lettuce, or spinach because they come into contact with more pathogens, and can conceal bacteria.
2. Wash your hands!
The one rule that anyone working with food knows! Use warm water and soap before you touch ANY food, and after every time you handle raw meat. Even when your kitchen looks spotless, there could be bacteria you don’t see on your hands, the countertop, or the utensils, so be sure to scrub away!
3. Never wash raw chicken
Washing raw meat and poultry can cause the germs to spread around the kitchen. The germs are killed during cooking when chicken is cooked to an internal temperature of 165°F (74°C), so there’s no need to wash it beforehand.
4. Separate any raw meat, from fresh produce and other foods you’ll eat raw
Be sure to use one cutting board for raw meat, and a different cutting board for everything else, to keep the bacteria contained and never put cooked food on a dish that had raw meat on it before! Also, if you use knives or utensils on raw meat, don’t forget to wash them thoroughly before you use them on anything else.
5. Put leftovers in the fridge as soon as you can, within 2 hours
If you leave them out for too long at room temperature, bacteria can quickly spread, turning tomorrow’s lunch into a food poisoning nightmare!
6. Freeze leftovers in small servings to make it easy to microwave and reheat
Smaller portions reduce the thawing time, and helps make sure you’re not wasting food by thawing more than you need – link to food waste article?
7. Thaw frozen food in the microwave, in the fridge, or in cold water – but never at room temperature
Food should never be thawed at room temperature, because the outer surface can easily rise above 40º F, where bacteria that causes foodborne illness multiplies extremely quickly.
8. Don’t put thin plastic containers in the microwave!
Plastic bowls that are labeled as “Microwave Safe” are generally perfectly fine to use in the microwave, however thinner plastics like yogurt containers or margarine tubs can be melted by the heat causing some of the chemicals in the plastic to seep into your food – So be careful!
Learning a few food safety tips early can keep kids involved in cooking, and help raise the next generation of junior chefs. That’s something we can all look forward to!