The Other Kind of Clean Food

Food Safety Guidelines to Teach Your Kids!
By Erica Leon, MS, RDN, CDN, CEDRD
After serving my daughter a fresh, bean-filled empanada from a local farmers market, she spent the entire night serving it back up! She was a statistic, since roughly one out of six individuals contract some type of food-borne illness each year. Just last week I watched my twenty-two-year-old son make a delicious chicken meal. He opened the package, washed the chicken in the sink of my beautiful, newly renovated kitchen, and left all those nasty germs splashed across many surfaces! And you know those annoying shopper loyalty cards? Thank goodness I had one because ShopRite called to say I had purchased almond butter subsequently recalled for possible salmonella contamination!
Safety in the kitchen is a public (and personal) health concern to keep your family free from pathogens that could make us very sick! Young children are particularly vulnerable to food-borne illness since their immune systems are not fully developed. In addition, it is just as important to teach our little ones about food safety during prep, cooking and cleanup, as it is to teach about overall health.
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Here are some CLEAN suggestions
to keep meal and snack times fun and safe for all:


  • Teach your child the importance of proper hand washing in warm soapy water before and after handling food.
  • Wash all cutting boards, bowls, plates, utensils, and surfaces with warm soapy water after exposure to raw foods to avoid bacterial contamination.
  • Clean and scrub raw fruits and vegetables with water.


  • Use two cutting boards—one for raw poultry, meat, seafood, and eggs and the other just for produce.
  • Use different plates for raw and cooked foods.
  • Store fresh and cooked foods separately to avoid juices leaking and cross-contaminating.


  • Invest in a good food thermometer and teach your child how to use it! This is the only way to know if a food is cooked thoroughly. Safe internal temperatures for pork, beef, veal, lamb, and poultry are between 160 and 165 degrees Fahrenheit.
  • Eggs must never be eaten raw, but should be cooked until the yolks and whites are firm.


  • Bacteria that can lead to food poisoning flourish between 40 and 140 degrees Fahrenheit. For this reason, it is essential to keep food hot, after cooking or to refrigerate/freeze the food within one hour.
    • Thaw food in the refrigerator, or under cold running water.
    • Remind your school-age child that he/she must put his/her cold perishable foods away immediately after using them (i.e. yogurt, milk, cheese, cold cuts, and leftovers!)

While these guidelines may seem like common sense to many of us parents, we often forget to teach our children these important food safety rules.

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Germs Where?

  • Your kitchen sponge is a nasty breeding ground for bacteria. Do keep your sponge clean by microwaving it (wet) for two minutes or placing in dishwasher with a drying cycle. Make sure to replace it periodically.
  • Do regularly clean handles and insides of refrigerators and microwaves with soap and hot water where raw food may contaminate.
  • Do NOT wash your chicken or meat in the sink before cooking it; bacteria counts are higher on countertops!
  • Keep bags, backpacks, and sporting equipment off the kitchen counters! They are teeming with germs.

As your kids come home from school and start preparing their own snacks, these guidelines will need to be reinforced.

Teach Your Child to Avoid Injury in the Kitchen!

  • Keep handles of pots and pans turned into the stove to avoid burns and scalding.
  • Respect the cooking oil—help avoid a nasty burn by using nonstick pans, small amounts of oil, pans with high sides, and invest in a splatter guard!
  • Do not allow your child to use the oven until you are confident he/she can safely manage using oven mitts.
  • To prevent burns, make sure your child can safely reach the microwave. Take extra care in removing food from the microwave oven. Use potholders and uncover foods away from your face so that steam can escape.

While we cannot avoid every hazard that comes our way, with proper techniques we can minimize our family’s risk in the kitchen. If you are interested in learning more about recent food recalls, you can visit:

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