As a child care provider, you may be hard-pressed to imagine a situation worse than your students vomiting all over the classroom after lunch. But if you're not careful, food-borne illnesses could make this nightmare a reality - and leave you with a huge mess to clean up to boot.
But these sicknesses can be more than just an inconvenience. In some cases, they can be deadly. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, food-borne illnesses - or food poisoning - are responsible for 3,000 deaths a year in the U.S.
In child care, it's important to take precautionary steps to avoid the risk of food-borne illness and protect the health of your students.
What is a food-borne illness?
A food-borne illness is a sickness that is spread by a chemical or germ that contaminates food. Examples that frequently make headlines include salmonella, listeria and E. coli, but according to the CDC, there are currently 31 pathogens known to cause these illness.
According to Mayo Clinic, common symptoms of these sicknesses include nausea, vomiting, fever, watery diarrhea, abdominal cramps, and pain. While these signs may start within hours of eating the contaminated food, they may also take days or even weeks to appear. Symptoms can last anywhere from a few hours to several days.
Foods can become unsafe in a variety of ways. They can be contaminated at some point in the manufacturing process before you buy them or later when you handle or cook them in your program. In the child care setting, your students may also bring contaminated products from home. These illnesses are then spread when children eat the food, or come in contact with the germs through unwashed hands, sneezes or other sources of cross-contamination from their fellow students.
Raw meats are a common culprit of food-borne illnesses.
Food-borne illnesses in the classroom
There are a number of steps you can take in your classroom to prevent the spread of food-borne illnesses. Those include:
- Washing hands: Be intentional about washing your hands with soap and hot water, especially before and after handling food. Ensure that your kids also follow proper hand-washing procedure.
- Sanitizing objects: Wipe down countertops and other shared spaces, including toys that young children may put in their mouths.
- Monitoring bathrooms: Make sure that any messes in the bathroom are cleaned up properly as soon as possible and sanitize the area after diaper changes.
- Avoiding cross-contamination: If you cook raw meat, be sure to wash any utensils or surfaces before they are used again.
- Cooking food properly: If you are serving food that needs to be cooked, such as raw meat, check that it's heated through properly.
- Keeping food cool: Keep perishable foods refrigerated at the proper temperature.
To learn more about creating a safe classroom, consider enrolling in the ProSolutions Training online course Preventing Food-borne Illnesses in Child Care Settings.