Beat the food bugs at school

January 2002

The Food Safety Information Council has issued a reminder to children returning to school and their parents about the importance of washing their hands before handling food.

The reminder follows recent research by the Council which showed that, while children were better at hand-washing than their elders, many children and parents still hadn’t got the message.

Chairman of the Council, Barry Shay, stressed the importance of being particularly careful when preparing food for a lunchbox. ‘If the food gets contaminated while being prepared in the morning, the bacteria have plenty of opportunity to multiply in the unrefrigerated box before it is eaten at lunchtime’, Mr Shay says.

‘Washing and drying hands thoroughly before getting the lunch ready is a good start, but you also need to make sure that the chopping board, knives and any other utensils are really clean and dry. This is because bacteria are not very attracted to clean, dry surfaces. The lunchbox you use also needs to be well washed with detergent and dried thoroughly before you pack the food.

‘Packing a frozen drink in the box along with the food can help keep the food cool and fresh but will not make the box cold enough to prevent any bacteria in the food from multiplying, so you really need to ensure that bacteria are not introduced at the preparation stage.

‘Again, it is really important that children wash and dry their hands thoroughly before eating their lunch so they don’t introduce bacteria to the food as they eat.

‘Because young children do sometimes put their fingers in their mouths, they also need to know to wash and dry their hands thoroughly after every time they go to the toilet whether they are about to eat or not. Faecal matter is one of the major sources of the most dangerous bacteria which cause food poisoning and children are a particularly vulnerable group with increased risks if they do get this disease — it can actually be fatal for children under 12.

The Food Safety Information Council promotes six simple messages for food safety.

  • Keep hot food steaming hot
  • Keep cold food refrigerated
  • Separate raw and cooked foods
  • Cook food properly
  • Keep kitchen and utensils clean.
  • Wash hands with soap and dry thoroughly

These are simple but effective ways of avoiding food poisoning,’ Mr Shay concluded.

Advice on food safety can be obtained from the Food Safety Information Council website