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Cooking with Kids Checklist: Food Safety Best Practices

September 21, 2016
By: Stephanie Loui, FoodCorps Hawai'i Service Member

October is around the corner which means educators, farmers, food producers and more are gearing up to celebrate National Farm to School Month and Food Day on October 24th! For those planning Harvest Parties, classroom visits with local Chefs, or just cooking (and eating) with kids, consider these Food Safety Best Practices and how they keep your food yum, not yuck.

Fruits and vegetables—especially fresh from the garden or Farmer’s Market—are an essential part of our plates and deliver many of our necessary vitamins and minerals. Fresh produce should always be inspected for holes, slug trails, and bugs and washed under running water to remove any dirt, bacteria, or mold. For layered produce such as onions, lettuce, leeks and cabbage, be sure to rinse in between the layers as dirt and grit can be caught in the cracks. If you notice any slug trails on your produce, discard immediately as these can be indicators of rat lungworm, a serious disease passed through infected rodents, snails, and slugs. Some preventative measures for rat lungworm include washing produce thoroughly and discarding any visibly damaged parts; eliminating snails, slugs and rats found near houses or gardens; and checking over purchased or harvested produce before storing with other foods. Boiling at least 3 to 5 minutes or freezing for at least 24 hours will also kill rat lungworm.
Secondly, anyone cooking, preparing, or serving food should always thoroughly wash their hands before handling raw and/ or cooked foods. For kids, creating a routine with a “hand-washing song” or game can help them to remember how long to wash— at least 15 seconds vigorously scrubbing hands and forearms with soap and after harvesting, preparing, or eating.

When cooking with a variety of ingredients, ensure that you avoid cross-contamination as pathogens can easily be transferred from one food or surface to another. Some ways to avoid cross-contamination include separating raw from ready-to-cook foods from when you purchase them all the way to the refrigerator, using a separate cutting boards for meat or poultry, avoiding leaving perishables out unrefrigerated, and always cleaning and sanitizing equipment in between usages. Also be aware that bacteria can travel via non-food items such as reusable grocery bags, dishtowels, and countertops. Keep your cooking space and supplies clean at all times.

Food and Equipment Storage
Where and how you store your food and cooking supplies is crucial to a safe cooking space. Make sure utensils and equipment are at least six inches off the ground and avoid storing supplies anywhere near chemicals or cleaning supplies. Foods that require refrigeration should be kept at 40°F or below and 0°F or below in the freezer. Perishables should be refrigerated within 2 hours of sitting out, even less if room temperature is above 90°F. While out, food should be covered to prevent attracting flies and other potentially harmful bugs.

Common Allergens
Especially when cooking with big groups, it is important to be clear on any dietary requirements, sensitivities, and especially allergies. Common allergens include dairy, shellfish, eggs, soy, peanuts, tree nuts, gluten, and fish. If you are using your home equipment such as cutting boards, blenders, or measuring cups, ensure that all surfaces are thoroughly washed and sanitized. Food allergies should be taken very seriously as even minor cross-contamination—a smudge of peanut butter on the bottom of a blender blade—can be dangerous. When cooking with students, confirm with the health aid, teacher, or other health authority on campus that you are aware of all student allergies. Verbally confirm with students and ensure that any “sous-chefs” involved in the cooking process have washed their hands, secured loose clothing, and tied back long hair.