As a parent, I try to do everything possible to keep my children safe from foodborne bacteria. Kids are surrounded by food all the time, and it's important that they learn food safety basics. However, busy schedules filled with sport practices, music lessons, and other after-school activities limit the time available for kids to learn about fighting bacteria. Parents can use all the help we can get!
That’s why I'm excited about a new (and fun!) booklet and video from the USDA that teach kids about basic steps to food safety – and what happens when you don’t follow those steps.
The booklet and video, Let Me Tell You How Dad Got Sick, feature a boy sharing the story of how his dad experienced foodborne illness. By reading the booklet or watching the video (or doing both), children learn how perishable food becomes unsafe when it’s left out too long. They also learn why it's so important to wash their hands properly with warm water and soap before handling food.
As a bilingual specialist at USDA, I’m also excited that the booklet is available in both Spanish and English, and that the video is available in Spanish with English captioning.
The booklet and video make it easy or children to learn the four simple steps to "Be Food Safe":
- Clean. Wash hands, utensils, and cutting boards before and after contact with raw meat, poultry, seafood, and eggs.
- Separate. Keep raw meat and poultry apart from foods that won't be cooked.
- Cook. Use a food thermometer to make sure your food reaches a safe internal temperature.
- Chill. Refrigerate leftovers and takeout foods within two hours.
Both the booklet and the video are great teaching tools for kids. Teaching children to "Be Food Safe" creates good habits in the kitchen that they will follow as they grow up.
- Booklet in English: Let Me Tell You How Dad Got Sick!
- Booklet in Spanish: ¡Déjame Contarte Cómo Papá Se Enfermó!
- Video: ¡Déjame Contarte Cómo Papá Se Enfermó! (in Spanish with English captions)
For more food safety information for kids, check out these resources:
Even though it’s not an official holiday, Halloween is much beloved by children and adults alike. What could be more fun than trick-or-treating, apple bobbing, or costume parties?
To make sure treats are safe for children, follow these simple steps:
- Snacking: Children shouldn’t snack while they’re out trick-or-treating. Give them a light meal or snack before they head out – don’t send them out on an empty stomach. Urge them to wait until they get home and let you inspect the contents of their “goody bags.”
- Safe treats: Tell children not to accept – and especially not to eat – anything that isn’t commercially wrapped. Inspect commercially wrapped treats for signs of tampering, such as an unusual appearance or discoloration, tiny pinholes, or tears in wrappers. Throw away anything that looks suspicious.
- Choking hazards: If you have very young children, be sure to remove any choking hazards such as gum, peanuts, hard candies, or small toys.
Bobbing for apples is an all-time favorite Halloween game. Here are a couple of ways to say “boo” to bacteria that can cause foodborne illness.
- Reduce the number of bacteria that might be present on apples and other raw fruits and vegetables by thoroughly rinsing them under cool running water. As an added precaution, use a produce brush to remove surface dirt.
- Try this new spin on apple bobbing from FightBAC.org: Cut out lots of apples from red construction paper. On each apple, write activities for kids, such as “do 5 jumping jacks.” Place a paper clip on each apple and put them in a large basket. Tie a magnet to a string. Let the children take turns “bobbing” with their magnet and doing the activity written on their apple. Give children a fresh apple for participating.
If your idea of Halloween fun is a party at home, don’t forget these tips:
- Beware of spooky cider! Unpasteurized juice or cider can contain harmful bacteria such as Salmonella. To stay safe, always serve pasteurized products at your parties.
- No matter how tempting, don't taste raw cookie dough or cake batter that contain uncooked eggs.
- “Scare" bacteria away by keeping all perishable foods chilled until serving time. These include finger sandwiches, cheese platters, fruit or tossed salads, cold pasta dishes with meat, poultry, or seafood, and cream pies or cakes with whipped-cream and cream-cheese frostings.
- Bacteria will creep up on you if you let foods sit out too long. Don’t leave perishable goodies out of the fridge for more than two hours (1 hour in temperatures above 90°F).
For more on Halloween food safety, check out these great resources:
- Halloween Food Safety How-To (FightBAC!)
- Lucky 13: Tips for a Safe Halloween (FDA)
- Halloween Extra Scary When Kids Have Nut Allergies (Healthfinder.gov)
- Podcast: Halloween or Costume Festivals and Food Safety
Listen to the podcast or read the script (5:30 minutes)
Have you seen the news?
- In a study released last week, food allergy rates were highest for children 1 to 5 years. Overall, the study found that children were twice as likely to have food allergies as other groups.
- Another recent study reported that about 35 percent of children over the age of five with food allergies have experienced bullying, teasing or harassment.
If you have a child with food allergies, you know how important it is to educate them and the adults in their lives (including teachers, caregivers, and coaches) about the basics of food allergies and reactions
Read the Label
The first lesson is: read the label. By law, the labels on food regulated by the Food and Drug Administration (that is, all food except for poultry, most meats and certain egg products) must identify whether the food contains any of the eight most common allergenic foods:
- Fish (such as flounder, bass, or cod)
- Crustacean shellfish (such as crab, lobster, or shrimp)
- Tree nuts (such as almonds, walnuts, or pecans)
The label must also indicate if any ingredient in the food contains protein derived from one or more of these eight foods.
But what about food ingredients with odd names like lecithin? The law requires that, if an ingredient contains a major allergen, the allergen must appear on the label, in one of two ways:
- In parentheses after the name of the ingredient:
Example: lecithin (soy), flour (wheat), whey (milk)
- In a separate list after or next to the ingredients list.
Example: Contains soy, wheat, and milk.
While the eight major allergens account for 90 percent of food allergic reactions, more than 160 other foods can cause reactions that are serious, even life threatening. So, always be sure to read the ingredients list on the food’s label carefully to avoid allergens.
You should also check the label for additional statements like these:
- “may contain [allergen]”
- “produced in a facility that also uses [allergen]”
These kinds of statements indicate that the food may contain a trace amount of an allergen because of unintentional cross-contact during processing. Because of the risk of severe reactions in children to food allergens, take these labels seriously.
Understand the Symptoms
You know how challenging it can be to prevent children from being exposed to allergens. Even when both children and adults are vigilant, unintended exposure may occur. That’s why the second important lesson is: understand the symptoms.
Symptoms of food allergies typically appear from a few minutes to two hours after exposure. Reactions can include:
- Flushed skin or rash
- Tingling or itchy sensation in the mouth
- Face, tongue, or lip swelling
- Vomiting and/or diarrhea
- Abdominal cramps
- Coughing or wheezing
- Dizziness and/or lightheadedness
- Swelling of the throat and vocal cords
- Difficulty breathing
- Loss of consciousness
If a child experiences any of these symptoms, make sure they get treatment immediately, even if the symptoms are mild. If the child is not treated promptly, mild symptoms could become more serious in a very short amount of time.
Tools to Educate
One tool for keeping your child safe is clear and accurate information that you can share with other adults, such as Food Allergies: What You Need to Know, a fact sheet in both English and Spanish, and Food Allergies: Reducing the Risks, an online video.
What do you do to educate others about food allergies?