Cheri M. Gioe, Merrill, Thomas A.
Louisiana Class A licensed child-care facilities are required to provide meals and snacks to children enrolled in their care, and those meals and snacks need to be not only nutritious but safe.
"That means it is important for child-care providers to practice appropriate food safety techniques," points out LSU AgCenter child-care associate Cheri Gioe.
Gioe and other LSU AgCenter experts offer these tips for handling food safely:
–Bacteria are everywhere! Hands should always be washed with soap and warm water before and after handling foods of all types. This helps prevent bacteria transfer.
–If food is cooked and set aside to serve, make sure the food is kept hot. In addition, foods should be cooled in the refrigerator. Bacteria grow well at temperatures between 40 degrees Fahrenheit and 140 degrees Fahrenheit (particularly at room temperature).
–Make certain beef, poultry, pork and other meats are cooked thoroughly to the recommended temperature for each. Be careful not to cross-contaminate your food by placing cooked food on unwashed serving dishes that were used to thaw food. Wash dishes that contained raw meats thoroughly with soap and warm water, and don’t forget to disinfect surfaces and utensils.
–Frozen foods should be thawed in the refrigerator or microwave (if being used immediately) and never left out on the counter.
–Fresh fruits and vegetables should be washed before serving or preparing. Many fruits and vegetable come in contact with bacteria and/or pesticides or may harbor worms or insects.
–Eggs should be kept in the refrigerator. Eggs and products made with eggs should never be eaten raw. Children like to eat raw cookie dough and cake and brownie batter, but keep in mind that these contain raw egg as an ingredient.
–Dishes should be washed in a dishwasher that has a rinse cycle with a temperature higher than 180 degrees Fahrenheit or washed by hand using a three-compartment sink. The three-compartment sink method consists of the first sink for washing, the second sink for rinsing and the third sink for a second rinsing in a water and chlorinated bleach mixture. Dishes should be washed in this order and left to air dry.
–Refrigerators should be cleaned weekly to ensure that spoiled food is thrown out. A good rule to follow is that fresh poultry should be refrigerated only one day to two days, other fresh meats three to five days and cooked leftovers three to four days.
"Food experts caution that young children, the elderly and people with compromised immune systems are most at risk of contracting food-borne illnesses," Gioe stresses. "They also warn that failure to follow the above-mentioned guidelines could result in food-borne illnesses such as salmonella, staph, e-coli, and botulism."
While such illnesses frequently cause only mild to moderate fever, stomach cramps, diarrhea and vomiting, experts caution they can, in some cases, be deadly.
"That means it’s serious business to make sure your food is handled appropriately, so it will be safe," Gioe says.
The LSU AgCenter’s "Be Child Care Aware!" educational program is designed to educate parents and child-care providers about quality child care. It is funded, in part, through a contract with the Louisiana Department of Social Services’ Office of Family Support.