The Slowcook at Spydog Farm The Slowcook at Spydog Farm

Kids Learn Food Safety

September 11th, 2009 · 2 Comments · Posted in kids

We hate germs, but you dont have to get all dressed up

We hate germs, but you don't have to get all dressed up

The “food appreciation” classes I teach at a private elementary school here in the District of Columbia started again this week and I thought it was high time the kids had a lesson in food safety. We’re in our fourth year of these classes, after all, and while we’ve learned a lot of about good nutrition, foods from around the world and traditional preparation techniques, we’ve never really focused on how to maintain a proper level of safety in the kitchen

Of course our first rule has always been, No blood in the food! We’ve always used plastic knives to teach proper cutting techniques. But this year we will be certifying some of the students on real knives. Kitchen knives should be sharp, and you need to know how to use them properly to avoid slicing a finger.

Handwashing. We are asking kids to wash hands before and after meals. With flu season approaching, especially with the spread of H1N1 or “swine flu,” hand washing is especially important in a school environment. We have Purrel dispensers in the multi-purpose room where we teach our food classes. The active ingredient in Purrel is ethyl alcohol, which kills germs. Kids should know how to rub the liquid all over the hands, including between the fingers. However, Purrel cannot be relied upon to remove food proteins that might provoke an allergic response. To avoid spreading proteins from peanuts or shellfish or egg products or any other potentially allergenic food, hands need to be thoroughly washed with soap and water.

To demonstrate handwashing technique, we tried a fun experiment. I had three kids rub canola oil all over their hands, then we sprinkled cinnamon on their hands, pretending it represented germs. Then, one of the kids washed with cold water only, the second with cold water and soap, the third with warm water and soap. It was pretty obvious that the best way to remove all of the oil and the cinnamon was with warm water and soap. But hands should be washed aggressively for 20 seconds. I had the kids count it out while I demonstrated. Be sure to rub vigorously between fingers, back of hands, under nails. Rinse and then dry aggressively with paper towel, not a cloth towel. Rubbing with paper towel is the best way to finally remove all germs and food proteins. Use the paper towel to turn off the water, so you aren’t picking up germs from the handle.

Coughing and sneezing. We no longer tell children to put their hand in front of their mouth before they cough or sneeze. Rather, they should turn their head away and bury their mouth in the inside of their elbow, or even farther up the arm into their sleeve. Germs are spread most easily from the hands. Avoid depositing germs into the hands.

Keep hands away from the “T zone.” This is the area of the face including eyes, nose and mouth. Germs are transmitted to the hands from bodily excretions. Hands should be washed after touching these areas, or after going to the bathroom.

Clean work surfaces. Kids love to help wash the tops of our work tables. This should be done before any food preparation begins. Use a soapy sponge, and wipe clean with a paper towel. Kids should avoid leaning on the tables after they’ve been cleaned. (Or climbing on them!)

Avoid cross-contamination. Disease organisms can easily be spread all around the kitchen from meats and food juices. To demonstrate, we pretended that a sponge was a piece of chicken and soaked it in red tempera paint to represent the juices that often accompany the chicken in its packaging. As I handled the sponge, the kids could easily see how quickly those potentially germ-infested juices were spread to my fingers, to a cutting board, to my knife, the tabletop, a kitchen cabinet. Try to avoid touching things if you’ve touched the meat. Anything that’s touched after handling meats, poultry, seafood, should be washed with soap. At home, we keep separate, color-coded cutting boards for the different food groups, a different cutting board for vegetables, for fruits, for meat, for poultry and for seafood.

Don’t spread germs in the fridge. Kids have some wild ideas about where to store proteins (meat, poultry, seafood) in the refrigerator. Maybe the top shelf is best because it’s coldest? In fact, the juices from proteins can leak through their packaging and drip on any food that’s underneath them, spreading a perfect medium for bacteria. That’s why they should always be kept in the lowest point of the refrigerator, even if you have to empty out a crisper drawer. As a further precaution, always put the meat or poultry or seafood in some kind of bowl to contain any leakage.

Always rinse! Fruits and vegetables should always be rinsed under the faucet before using. They should have been cleaned more than once between the farm field and your grocer’s shelf, but you never know. Anyone along the line who wasn’t practicing proper hygiene could have had their hands on it and spread dangerous germs. This is usually how potentially lethal food-borne organisms such as E-coli are spread.

Maintain proper temperature. The magic numbers in the kitchen are 40 to 140. Foods should be held either below 40 degrees Fahrenheit, or above 140 degrees. Anything in between is where germs can live.

Food safety information like this is the kind of stuff kids can use every day and for the rest of their lives. It’s worth repeating from time to time. Getting sick from food–or making somebody else sick–is no fun at all. And teaching it can be a blast if you get the kids involved. They especially like working with their hands and vivid demonstrations.

For more great stories about how we are taking back our food system, be sure to check out Fight Back Fridays.

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  • dana

    you should not teach kids to use that Purrel stuff, it kills the good germs on our hands so that when bad germs get on them the good germs can fight them off, you are creating super germs. you posted this on Food Renegade and I don’t think they support using anti bacterial soaps. have you read the sight your posting stuff on? of course we should teach kids to wash their hands, but with healthy soaps, you are turnign them into people who are terrified of germs. its easy to get obsessive about that kind of stuff.

  • Ed Bruske

    Dana, welcome to my world. I don’t make the rules at my school. I’ve stopped squawking about the yogurt with high fructose corn syrup they serve as snack food, for instance. Sometimes we have to make small concessions to the greater world in which we live. I make up for it by giving my kids all kinds of subversive messages about real kids. I trust that readers of the Food Renegade site will be able to distinguish between the things they want to incorporate into their own lifestyles. Would you care to take a guess how many schools use Purell? And, no, I don’t think we’re being obsessive when it comes to trying to maintain hygeine around food preparation in an institutional setting such as an elementary school.