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Food Safety


It is estimated that more than 76 million cases of food borne illness occur in the United States each year. Most of the time, they simply result in a touch of "tummy flu". However, young children are especially susceptible to serious consequences from food borne illness because their immune systems have not fully developed.

In child care settings, germs and illness can spread very quickly through cross-contamination. This presents a great need for child care providers to practice proper food safety and teach food safety to children. Child care providers have the direct responsibility of serving food to many children. Their knowledge of food safety not only benefits the quality of meal preparation for the children in their care, but it also serves to keep children safe.

Because it is so important that safe food handling habits be learned at an early age, we have brought together information, experiments and fun activities to teach the children the correct way to handle food and practice good personal hygiene.


To teach children about food safety, begin with teaching about germs. Germs, however, are a puzzling concept to children. After all, they have no evidence that germs really exist! Ask the children if they know what germs are? Do they know where germs are? Do they know what germs do? Germs are microscopic organisms that make us sick and they are everywhere! Talk to the children about germs, explaining that some of the ways they're spread are through touching, sneezing, and coughing. Even if the children have heard of germs, it's still a good idea to present the information in a way that helps them have a better understanding. Also it helps conceptualize why food safety is so important.

What are germs?

Some kids may think that germs are bugs or cooties or other gross stuff. Actually, germs are tiny organisms, or living things, that can cause disease. Germs are so small and sneaky that they creep into our bodies without being noticed. In fact, germs are so tiny that you need to use a microscope to see them. When they get in our bodies, we don't know what hit us until we have symptoms that say we've been attacked!

Germs Are All Over the Place!

After explaining to the children what germs are, ask the children if they can think of any places germs may be hiding?

  • floor

  • garbage

  • hair

  • sneeze

  • clothes

  • trash cans

  • dirty dishes

  • fingernails

  • scratches

  • money

  • sinks

  • skin

  • runny noses

  • pets

  • door knobs


Most germs are spread through the air in sneezes, coughs, or even breaths. Germs can also spread in sweat, saliva, and blood. Some pass from person to person by touching something that is contaminated, like shaking hands with someone who has a cold and then touching your own nose. So the best way to protect yourself from germs is to steer clear of the things that can spread them:

  • Cover your nose and mouth when you sneeze and cover your mouth when you cough to keep from spreading germs.

  • Remember the two words germs fear - soap and water. Washing your hands well and often is the best way to beat these tiny warriors. Wash your hands every time you cough or sneeze, before and after you prepare foods or use the bathroom, after you handle money, and after you visit a sick friend or relative.

  • Using tissues for your sneezes and sniffles is another great weapon against germs. But don't just throw tissues on the floor to pick up later. Toss them in the trash and again, wash your hands!


Activities to Teach Children about Germs:


Imaginary Germ: This activity will help children visualize the existence of germs.

  1. Let each child draw a "germie" shape on a piece of card or poster board. A "germie" shape can be whatever the child wants it to look like.

  2. Cut the shape out.

  3. Set out elbow macaroni, crayons, construction paper, scissors and glue.

  4. Let the children use their imagination, and these supplies, to create an imaginary germ. Let the children know that their germ can be any color, shape, or design that they want.


Glittering Germ: This activity will reinforce how many germs there are and how quickly they can spread.

Materials Needed: pencil, glue, glitter, soap, paper towel

  1. Cover the pencil with washable glue.

  2. Sprinkle glitter all over the glue.

  3. Have the children sit in a circle.

  4. Tell the children to pretend the glitter is germs.

  5. Pass the pencil around the circle.

  6. Encourage them to watch the "germs" go from one person to the next.

  7. Wipe the pencil off with a paper towel (some of the germs will still remain).

  8. Show the children that "germs" are still on the pencil.

  9. Take the children to the kitchen sink.

  10. Wash off the pencil with soap and water.

  11. Show that the pencil now has fewer germs on it.

  12. Stress that soap and water were needed to get the germs off.

  13. Explain the comparison between the pencil and the children's hands.

  14. Have the children wash their hands with soap and water to remove the "germs".

  15. Look around to see what the children may have touched before washing their hands.

  16. Look to see if any child touched his/her face, hair, arms, etc.

  17. Point these out to the children to stress how quickly and easily germs spread.


Beat the Germ Hunt: This activity will teach the children what items will help get rid of germs and bacteria.


Take the children on a walk through the house to find things that help get rid of germs and bacteria. Point out paper towels, toilet paper, paper napkins, soap, sink, running water, refrigerator, food thermometer, stove, tongs, clean garbage bags, etc. Gather the things that are possible to collect. When the hunt is over, set out all the "Beat the Germ" objects and encourage a discussion about the items. Tell the children that these are some of the things that fight germs and bacteria.

A clean kitchen is also key to protecting you and your children:

  • Wash cutting boards, dishes, utensils and counters with hot soapy water after preparing each food item.

  • Replace cutting boards when they become excessively worn or develop grooves or cracks. Bacteria can live in these cracks and grooves.

  • Fresh produce needs to be washed before serving raw. If necessary use a vegetable brush to remove excess dirt.

  • Sanitize the kitchen periodically with a mixture of 1 tsp. Chlorine bleach with 1 gallon of water.



To continue the concept of germs, show the children how to get rid of the germs on their hands. Careful hand washing is one of the best ways to stop germs from spreading. To help young children understand why they need to wash their hands begin with some basic ideas.

Why We Need to Wash Our Hands?

Ask the children to think of all the things they do with their hands. Hands clap, play in the sand, pet animals, build with blocks and many, many more things. Point out to the children that hands also prepare food and carry it to their mouths. Since hands are so busy, they must always be washed with soap and water to remove the germs before preparing foods.

Wash your hands and children's hands:

  • after using the restroom

  • after changing diapers (wash the hands of the child as well)

  • after helping a child use the restroom

  • before fixing, serving or eating foods

  • after touching raw foods (meat, poultry, fish and eggs)

  • before eating meals and snacks

  • after playing with shared toys or playing outside

  • whenever coming in contact with bodily fluids such as vomit, saliva, feces, urine, blood, runny noses, etc.

  • after handling pets

A Closer Look at Hands

Let the children look at their hands with a magnifying glass. Remind them that dirt and germs can hide in the lines, cracks, and wrinkles. They might see dirt, but they won't see germs because the germs are too small.

Activities to Teach Children about Hand Washing


Steps for Washing Hands: Teach children these five simple steps for washing hands to help fight germs and bacteria.

  1. Wet- use warm (doesn't have to be hot), running water

  2. Lather- use soap until you get lots of bubbles

  3. Rub- rub hands together, washing the entire hand (all of the fingers including between and under fingernails, back of hands, palms, and wrists) for at least 20 seconds. Have the children sing their ABC's to help them know when time is up.

  4. Rinse- rinse hands thoroughly for 10 more seconds under running water

  5. Dry- pat dry with a paper towel, instead of rubbing with a clean towel. Whenever possible, try to open the bathroom door or turn the faucet on and off with a paper towel to protect your hands from the germs of people who did not wash their hands correctly.

Correct Way to Wash our Hands: This will show the children that they always need soap, water, and paper towel to wash their hands.

Have the children color pictures of the steps for washing hands. Or use this template. Cut out the pictures. Glue on a separate piece of paper in the correct order for washing hands.

Grow a Germ: This activity shows how hand washing keeps germs from growing.

Materials Needed: plastic bag or container, 1 boiled unpeeled potato, labels or masking tape, and a marker

  1. Boil a potato.

  2. Wash your hands.

  3. Drain water off potato. Cut potato in half. Cooling slightly but leaving the potato still warm. 

  4. Have one child rub his/her hand against the white (flat) side of the potato. Place in a plastic bag or container. Label this bag or container "DIRTY".

  5. Have another child wash his/her hands well. Have this child rub his/her hand against the white (flat) side of the other potato half. Place in a plastic bag or container. Label this bag or container "CLEAN".

  6. Place both bags or containers on a sunny windowsill for about a week.

  7. Look how many more germs grow on the "DIRTY" potato than the "CLEAN" potato.


Soapy Solutions: This experiment will help children see the best way to wash germs off their hands.

Materials Needed: cooking oil, cinnamon, and measuring spoons

If you have a small group of children, divide them up into three groups. If you have a large group of children you may want to pick three volunteers.

  1. Rub half of a tablespoon (or less) of cooking oil all over each child's hand until completely covered.

  2. Sprinkle half a tablespoon (or less) of cinnamon on hands and have the children rub it around until it's evenly distributed.

  3. Have the children pretend that the cinnamon is bacteria.

  4. Point out that the "bacteria" is all over their hands.

  5. Assign each group or child one hand washing method from the list below.

  6. Have the children take turns washing their hands.

  7. Have the children wash their hands according to the specified way from the list below, rubbing briskly for 20 seconds.

  8. When all the hands are washed, ask the children to hold them out and encourage them to look at the hands of all other children.

  9. Have them decide which hands have the least amount of "bacteria" left.

  10. Talk about what hand washing method the "bacteria free" hands used.

  11. Explain to the children that real bacteria will be washed off the same way - with warm water and soap!

  • wash hands with cold water and no soap

  • wash hands with warm water and no soap

  • wash hands with warm water and soap



In order to keep food safe from bacteria it needs to be kept in the right spot. Cold foods need to be kept cold and hot foods need to be kept hot. It is also important to not cross-contaminate foods that are bacteria free with foods that could still contain bacteria. Also when food is cooked it needs to be cooked well enough that all the germs are killed.

When teaching this to children it is important that they understand the concept of hot and cold. After those concepts are explained, then continue with other activities to ensure they understand about food temperature, storage and handling.

Activities to Teach Children about Food Handling


Separate the Groceries: This activity shows young children how to separate ready-to-eat foods from perishable foods. Doing this can keep bacteria from spreading from one food to another.

  1. "Shop" for groceries. Gather packages, pictures, or plastic toy foods. Example: chicken, hamburger, fish, bananas, apples, broccoli, bread, and rolls. Practice putting food in a "grocery cart".

  2. Separate the meats (chicken, hamburger, fish), fresh fruits and vegetables (broccoli, bananas, and apples), and ready-to-eat foods (breads and rolls).

  3. "Bag" groceries. Use plastic and paper grocery bags to separate meats, ready-to-eat foods and fruits and vegetables.


Hot and Cold: These activities help children learn that hot foods have to stay hot and cold foods have to stay cold.

  • Fill a water bottle with hot water and fill a plastic bag with ice. Have the children touch them. Ask the children what hot and cold feel like.

  • Have the children identify hot foods and cold foods. For example, some hot foods are hamburgers and corn. Examples of cold foods are potato salad and yogurt.

  • Tell the children how important it is to keep hot foods hot and cold foods cold. Germs like to grow in warm foods.

  • Have a hot and cold snack. Have the children taste a hot food, like warm blueberries. Then have them taste a cold food, like vanilla yogurt. Ask the children how hot and cold feel.

  • Use a food thermometer to measure hot (over 140 degrees F) and cold foods.

  • Show flash cards of foods. Ask if you eat them hot or cold.


Cleaning Up: These activities will help children learn how cleaning up keeps bacteria away from food. While the children are cleaning up, point out how the cleaning activity gets rid of harmful bacteria.

  • Have the children wipe tables with a soapy dishcloth after snacks and meals.

  • Encourage the children to wash plastic dishes with a dishcloth and soapy water.

  • Let the children take turns sweeping the floor.


Cross-contamination - Safely Separate: This experiment helps children see how easily it can be to cross-contaminate food and shows them why we need to separate foods.

Materials Needed: 2 clean sponges- cut in the shape of chicken legs, red or other brightly colored poster paint, paint brush, cutting board, cucumber, clean light colored plate, and a serrated knife

  1. Dampen both sponges. Tell the children to pretend that the sponges are chicken.

  2. Set one sponge aside and have the children pretend that it is "cooked chicken".

  3. Show the children the other sponge and have them pretend that it is "raw chicken".

  4. Paint both sides of the "raw chicken". Pretend that the paint is the juice of the chicken that may have been contaminated with bacteria.

  5. Place the painted sponge on the cutting board and use a knife to cut the sponge in half. Tell the children that you are preparing the "chicken" for dinner.

  6. Move the painted sponge onto the plate, and don't wash the cutting board.

  7. Cut a slice of raw cucumber on the same cutting board you used above.

  8. Place the clean sponge ("cooked chicken" that was cooked well done) on the plate with the "raw chicken" sponge. The "chicken juice" from the "raw chicken" will run onto the "cooked chicken" making the cooked chicken unsafe to eat.

  9. Talk with the children about the experiment and offer ways to prevent cross-contamination.


Help the Children Practice

  • If the children are helping in food preparation, to prevent cross-contamination give each child a cutting board of their own.

  • Use plastic squeeze bottles to hold jellies, peanut butter, mustard, mayonnaise, ketchup, and other spreadable ingredients used in snack and meal preparation. You may have to cut the spout a little wider to accommodate weaker hands or lumpy foods, but that's better than licked knives or fingers in common jars.

  • Children should only touch the foods that they are going to eat. Separate utensils should be provided for each child. Sharing of foods should be discouraged as much as possible.



Cooking with children has many benefits. It is also a great learning experience and it can make for a wonderful and interactive quality time. But it is also one of the most dangerous rooms in the house. Always make sure that any time children are in the kitchen they are thoroughly supervised.

Kitchen Dangers: This activity will show the children what objects in the kitchen are unsafe.

Take the children on a tour of the kitchen and explain the different appliances and objects there. You can point out to them different things that are hot, heavy, sharp, and electrical. Explain to them what the object is for and then have the children tell you if it is safe or unsafe for them to use.

Hot Pan: This activity is a fun game to play while at the same time teaching children that when things are hot they should not touch them.

Collect children's toys that represent hot items in your kitchen, like a frying pan. Or draw a picture of something hot, like a pan on the stove or an oven. Have the children sit in a circle and pass the items around the circle. Play music at the same time. When the music stops the child holding the item is out of the circle. You could explain to the child that because they held onto the hot item they got a burn and can no longer play the game until the ouch is healed.

Help The Children Practice

To help the children understand what items in the kitchen are too dangerous for them to use, try coming up with a symbol that the children will understand as something they cannot touch or use. Whenever they see this symbol (suggested symbols are here), they will know they need an adult present to help them.



Kids will be kids. Don't be surprised if you get a lot of questions. Answer them quickly (if not, they will keep asking until they get an answer). Try letting germs be part of answering questions. That way you can give correct messages in a non-threatening, even humorous, way.

"Real" Kid Questions: Here are some typical questions by kids and some providers suggested responses.

Question: "My hands look clean. Do I have germs on them now"

Answer: Probably. Germs are everywhere. But as long as you wash your hands really well with soap and water before handling food or eating, you'll get rid of them.

Or, Germie could respond (in his germie voice): Yes - my friends and I are everywhere. But whatever you do, don't wash us away with soap and water. We hate that!

And you can finish with: Now wait a minute germie, you can't fool them. They're smarter than that!

Question: "Does bacteria really look like that puppet? What does bacteria really look like?"

Answer: Real bacteria are so tiny that we can't really see them unless we look under a microscope. But we know that harmful bacteria are there, so we have to get rid of them.

Question: "What happens if there is a germ on food that I eat? What will happen to me? If it gets inside me, how do I get it out?"

Answer: There are good germs and bad germs that can be on the food you eat. When bad germs are on the food you eat, there is a possibility that you could become ill. If that happens you'll go see the doctor and he or she will make you feel better with medicine.

Question: "Why should we try to get rid of germs if they're everywhere and they're just going to come back anyway?"

Answer: Even though they can come back, you want to remove them so that you don't eat them. That's why it's important to wash your hands often and rinse your fruits and vegetables before you eat them. Washing helps to rinse germs from our hands and foods.

Question: "What kind of foods should be refrigerated?"

Answer: Lots of things, like milk, cheese, eggs, salads, some fruits and vegetables, leftovers, meats and many bottles and jars once you open them. 





Bacteria can spread from one food product to another. This is especially dangerous when handling raw meat, poultry and seafood. Keep these foods and their juices from other food that is not going to be cooked.

  • If possible, use a separate cutting board for raw meat products only.

  • Separate raw meat, poultry and seafood from all other foods in the grocery cart and refrigerator, juices from those products could contaminate other products.

  • Place cooked food on clean plates. Never use the same plate that held the raw food.

  • Always wash hands, cutting boards, dishes and utensils with hot soapy water after they come in contact with any raw foods.



Foods are properly cooked when heated to a high enough temperature for a long enough time to destroy bacteria that causes illness. Using a food thermometer is the safest way to ensure that the temperature of the food is high enough.

  • Use a clean food thermometer to make sure foods are cooked thoroughly.

  • Frequently check the food temperature. Immediately check the food temperature before serving food and immediately after reheating.

  • When cooking in a microwave, cover the food and stir then rotate the dish by hand once or twice during cooking. Check with a food thermometer before serving. 

Thermometer Tips:

Use a food thermometer to make sure foods have been properly cooked to a safe internal temperature. Food will taste better, too, as you won't over cook it.

There are several types of thermometers available:

  • Dial oven-safe: This type of thermometer is inserted into the food at the beginning of the cooking time and remains in the food throughout cooking. By checking the thermometer as the food cooks, you will know exactly when thick cuts of meat, such as roasts or turkeys, are cooked to the correct temperature. This type of thermometer is not appropriate for use with food that is thin, like boneless chicken breast.

  • Dial instant-read: This thermometer is not designed to stay in the food during cooking. When you think the food is cooked to the correct temperature, you check it with the instant-read thermometer. To do this, insert the instant-read thermometer into the thickest part of the food. Insert to the point marked on the probe, usually to a depth of 2 inches. About 15 to 20 seconds are required for the temperature to be accurately displayed. This type of thermometer can be used with thin food, such as chicken breasts or hamburger patties. Simply insert the probe sideways, making sure that the tip of the probe reaches the center of the meat.

  • Digital instant-read: This type of thermometer does not stay in the food during cooking. You check the temperature when you think the food is cooked. The advantage of this type of thermometer is that the heat-sensing device is in the tip of the probe. Place the tip of the probe in the center of the thickest part of the food at least 1/2 inch deep. About 10 seconds are required for the temperature to accurately be displayed. This type of thermometer is good to use for checking the temperature of a thin food like a hamburger patty. Just insert the probe from the top or side.



When left out at room temperature, the harmful bacteria in foods can double every 20 minutes. The greater the amount of bacteria means the greater the chance of becoming sick. Cold temperatures prevent harmful bacteria from multiplying. The temperature in your refrigerator should be set to no higher than 40 degrees F. Check the temperature of your refrigerator with an appliance thermometer.

  • Leftovers should be divided into smaller amounts and put in shallow containers for quick cooling.

  • All perishable and prepared foods should be refrigerated or frozen within 2 hours.

The 2-hour Rule:

Discard any perishable food left out at room temperature longer than 2 hours. Hot foods - keep purchased hot foods, hot! Eat purchased hot foods within 2 hours. If not eating within two hours, place food in the oven to keep food at a steady internal temperature of 140 degrees F or higher. Cover the food to keep it moist. Cold foods - should be eaten within 2 hours or refrigerated/frozen for use at another time.

Refrigeration Storage:

To maintain the safety and quality of food, keep foods refrigerated. Refrigeration will only keep the food for a limited time because some bacteria can still grow at refrigeration temperature.

For a chart of how long foods can last in a refrigerator click here.

Refrigeration Storage Tips:

  • Containers that are airtight, moisture and vapor-proof are best for storage in the refrigerator.

  • Remove spoiled foods regularly.

  • Clean refrigerator regularly.

  • Use foods quickly; do not depend on the maximum storage time.

  • Place meat, poultry and seafood in the coldest part of the refrigerator.

  • Do not store eggs in the door.

  • Don't over stock the refrigerator. Cold air needs to circulate in order for foods to remain safe.

  • When meat, poultry or seafood is purchased in plastic wrapping from self-serve counters, store the product in these packages. Many shoppers have handled meat packages in self-serve counters. Opening these packages before storage could result in contamination.


Foods Purchased Frozen:

In the grocery store, place frozen foods in the cart last, just before checking out. Take foods directly home and place in freezer.

For a chart of how long foods can last in the freezer click here.


Freezer Tips:

  • A freezer (that maintains a temperature of 0 degrees F) offers convenience and flexibility.

  • When freezing, use only moisture and vapor proof materials (heavy-duty aluminum foil, polyethylene bags, freezer film wraps, glass, plastic and metal containers).



  • Never thaw foods at room temperature. To thaw foods safely, place in the refrigerator for twenty-four hours (4 to 5 pounds). Another way to safely thaw is placing the food in cold water. Change the water every half hour to be sure it stays cold. If thawing food in the microwave, be sure to continue cooking immediately.


Storing Food in the Pantry:

  • Storing food properly can result in a longer shelf life, better taste and nutritional retention, and fewer food dollars wasted. Foods such as canned goods, cereal, baking mixes, pasta, dry beans, mustard, ketchup and peanut butter can be safely stored at room temperature. Store these foods in a clean, dry, cool (below 85 degrees F) cabinet, away from appliance exhaust.

  • Never use foods from cans that are: leaking, bulging, badly dented, or with a foul order, cracked jars or jars with loose or bulging lids, or any container that spurts liquids when you open it.


Food Product Dating:

  • The expiration dates printed on food product labels are not a federal regulation and are not a safety date. Product dates are used for food quality and taste issues. Calendar dates are found primarily on perishable foods such as dairy products, eggs, meat and poultry. Coded dates might appear on shelf stable products such as cans and boxes of food.

  • There are several types of dates: "Sell-by" date - tells the store how long to display the product for sale. You should buy the product before the date expires. "Best if used by (or before)" - recommended for best flavor or quality. It is not a purchase or safety date. "Use-by" - the last date recommended for use of the products while at peak quality. The manufacturer of the product has determined the date. "Closed or Coded Date" - packing numbers for use by manufacturer in tracking their products. This enables manufacturers to rotate their stock as well as locate their products in the event of a recall.


Packaged and Canned Foods:

  • Before opening, check packaged and canned foods for damage. If the packaging is dented, cracked, ripped or has animal gnaw marks, throw it away. After opening, store products in tightly closed containers. The storage of many shelf stable items at room temperature is a quality issue, unless the product is contaminated (bugs in flour, for example). Some must be refrigerated after opening, such as tuna or chili. For a chart of how long packaged and canned foods can be stored click here.


Fresh Produce:

  • Raw fruits are safe at room temperature, but after ripening, will mold and rot quickly. For the best quality, store ripe fruit in the refrigerator or prepare and freeze. Some dense raw vegetables such as potatoes and onions can be stored at cool room temperatures. Refrigerate other raw vegetables for optimum quality and to prevent rotting. After cooking, all vegetables must be refrigerated or frozen within two hours. For a list of where to store fruits and vegetables and for how long they can be stored click here.


Bakery Items:

  • Bakery items containing custards, meat or vegetables, and frostings made of cream cheese, whipped cream or eggs must be kept refrigerated. Bread products not containing these ingredients are safe kept at room temperature, but eventually they will mold and become unsafe to eat. For a list of bakery items and how long they can be stored click here.


To receive a certificate of training hours you must complete a quiz based on the material above. You are required to get all questions correct. If you do not get 100% on the quiz the first time, you may take it over again. The results of the quiz will be emailed to Mid Michigan Child Care Food Program. When we receive the results of your quiz, a certificate of training completed will pop up that you can print. A copy of the certificate will also be emailed to you. 

Food Safety Quiz

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