Food for Toddlers

Hygiene When Preparing Food for Toddlers and Younger Children

14 December 2022
Posted by: Chelsea

There’s an old 18th-century saying that “we all have to eat a peck of dirt before we die” (a “peck” is an old unit of dry measurement).

Preparing Food for Toddlers and Younger Children

The sentiment urges one to be practical about cleanliness rather than obsessed with it while preparing food for toddlers. However, today we know that hygiene when preparing food for toddlers and children is critically important.

Why is hygiene especially important for younger children?

Under the age of about 5-6, a child’s immune system has still not fully developed. Furthermore, at that age children are not producing the same quantity of stomach acids as adults, meaning they may find it harder than grown-ups to easily process many types of foodstuffs.

Those two things taken together mean that children are typically far more susceptible to food-induced stomach complaints (often referred to as “food poisoning”) than the typical adult.

It’s also worth noting while choosing food for toddlers, that due to their smaller body mass, children may suffer more severe effects of stomach upsets, with things such as diarrhoea easily leading to dehydration etc.

Top food safety tips for younger children

To reduce such risks:

  • wash your hands thoroughly, using soap, before and after preparing food for toddlers. Wash them again before feeding your child if they’re still at that age;
  • make sure that raw food such as meats and fish are kept entirely separate from cooked foods in your refrigerator. Raw food of those types should preferably be kept in a separate sealed container;
  • if your food preparation involves handling raw meat or fish, be certain to wash your hands thoroughly before touching anything else including plates, cups, cutlery, door handles and so on;
  • never use utensils or cutlery you’ve used for handling raw meat/fish, on cooked foods you’re serving;
  • where you’re planning to move cooked food you’ve prepared into the fridge, do so immediately once it has cooled and try to avoid leaving foodstuffs like cooked meat or fish laying around at room temperature for too long;
  • respect any “use by” dates on food packaging. While some of these may be overly cautious, it’s perhaps best to avoid taking chances where kids’ stomachs are involved;
  • wash (or peel) fruit and vegetables you’re planning to serve uncooked – even if they’re in packets saying they’ve already been washed;
  • be careful with some types of food for toddlers, again notably cooked meat and fish, that have been hanging around for some time in your fridge. Refrigerators can’t keep stuff fresh and safely edible forever. Check the foodstuff concerned online and see how long it can be safely stored after cooking;
  • takeaways are a major potential source of stomach troubles for younger children. There’s no easy answer to this as you have no control over the hygiene standards in the outlet’s kitchen. All you can do is to ask around about the outlet’s reputation. Another good idea is to thoroughly re-cook the dishes after you get them home rather than simply a 5-minute blast in the microwave;
  • always thoroughly cook meat and fish. Some gourmets might sing the praises of ‘rare’ or ‘pink’ cooking of some meat but that is best avoided where younger children are concerned;
  • never serve minced meat (such as burgers or sausages) pink or rare.

A final word on ovens and microwaves.

There is a commonly-heard misconception that a “quick brief zap” in the microwave will kill all germs and viruses. Unfortunately, it may not do so alone!

The thing that kills potentially harmful organisms like E.coli is heat – microwaves alone won’t do it unless they’ve generated enough heat for the food to reach a sustained all-over temperature of 70C+.

That’s because sustained all-through cooking temperatures of 70C and above are required to kill E.coli. That is why burgers that are brown on the outside (typically indicating a temperature of over 70C was achieved) but rare on the inside (indicating well below 70C) can be so risky – particularly for children.

The reason adults can consume rare steak without (typically) suffering ill effects and why minced beef served as a rare burger is so much riskier, can be researched online if you’re interested.

However, younger children and red or pink-cooked meat should be kept apart under all circumstances.

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