Keeping children’s food safe

Correct food safety practices are integral to the provision of safe food for children (National Quality Standard (NQS) Quality Area 2, Children’s Health and Safety).

ACECQA spoke with Nutrition Australia Queensland’s Nutritionist and Food Safety Auditor Abbey Warren who shared some key tips and advice for keeping children’s food safe.

Abbey notes that as a result of their developing immune systems, children under the age of five years are vulnerable to food poisoning and at a greater risk of developing serious health complications.

Abbey shared that in her role as a food safety auditor specialising in the food safety requirements of vulnerable populations, including early childhood education and care (ECEC) settings, she has seen varying levels of food safety compliance.

“Everyone working within an ECEC environment has a responsibility to keep food safe, regardless of whether food is cooked on site by a chef or cook, delivered by a catering company or brought in by families” Abbey said.

Abbey shared her top three critical reflection points on food safety. These are all centred around the most commonly seen areas of non-compliance with accepted food handling standards and behaviours.

1. Do all staff have the skills and knowledge to care for food safely?

Anyone involved in the stages of food handling must have the skills and knowledge to do so safely. The chef or cook in the kitchen requires different skills and knowledge ie. Food safety supervisor training, compared to an educator who is involved in serving food to children who has had more basic training and general food safety knowledge and skills.

It is important that knowledge is current and reflected on frequently. A regular food safety agenda item at staff meetings is an effective way of ensuring food safety knowledge is current and at the forefront of mind. One month, it may cover correct hand washing and another month, it may cover food storage or cleaning. This is integral in ensuring that food safety remains a priority in the service.

The correct skills and knowledge of everyone involved in food handling is an important safeguard to promote the health and safety of children while minimising risks and protecting children from harm (NQS Quality Area 2).

2. Are the facilities appropriate for the amount and type of food being stored?

All food storage areas must be clean, pest free and well maintained (NQS Element 3.1.2). Food must be in sealed containers or bags and correctly labelled with the product name, opened date and best before date.

Items must be stored in accordance with manufacturer’s instructions. If a product is opened, it is important that the storage instructions are followed. Storage instructions may state that the products must be refrigerated after opening or stored in a cool dry place. These requirements should always be checked and followed before storing foods.

It is important to consider that Dry storage areas include pantries, cupboards or rooms where low risk foods are stored.

Abbey’s top tips to ensure the food in your fridge stays at the correct temperature include:

  • Avoid overloading
  • Ensure hot food has stopped steaming before putting it into the fridge
  • Minimise the time the door is held open
  • If lunchboxes or insulated lunch bags are brought in by families, ensure there is enough space to store these in a fridge and that insulated bags are unzipped to allow cool air to circulate.

3. Is food cooked or reheated to safe temperatures?

Cooking and heating food kills off pathogenic microorganisms if the correct temperatures are reached.

It is important to consider the following:

Cooking temperature – Potentially hazardous foods such as meat, poultry, eggs, seafood and cooked rice and pasta are required to be cooked to an internal temperature above 75°C to ensure any pathogenic microorganisms in the products are killed off.

Reheating temperature – Once potentially hazardous foods have been cooked above 75°C and then cooled for later use, they can then be reheated once to a temperature above 60°C.

To ensure the safety of cooked and reheated food:

  • Test internal food temperature with a probe thermometer and document temperature reached
  • Ensure thermometers are cleaned and sanitised after every use
  • Cooked and reheated food will need to be cooled for a short period of time to allow it to drop to a safe temperature for children to consume. Portioning food into small bowls/plates will help speed up cooling time
  • Prevent cooling food from contamination.

Young children are a highly vulnerable group when it comes to food poisoning and it is important that we all take every practical measure possible to ensure their safety while they attend a service.

Reflecting on your own food safety practices and the measures in place at your service is important to do regularly due to the ever changing nature of the food environment. Doing so will highlight what is being done well and what may require improvement to ensure the provision of safe food for children. For more information, refer to the Guide to the NQF Quality Area 2.

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