Susan Conley (301) 504-9605
Steven Cohen (202) 720-9113
WASHINGTON, September 7, 2004 – Bookbags and
backpacks get quickly tossed aside and the munchies take over when kids
burst through the door after school. If your child is home alone for
an hour or two after school, how can you make sure their snacks are safe
from foodborne bacteria and they are protected from dangers in the kitchen?
These days, many kids don't just open a bag of chips - some make cookies
from scratch; others use a microwave to heat up instant noodles or soup.
Sound safe? Not if the cookie maker tastes the raw homemade cookie dough
because that could lead to Salmonella poisoning and sometimes hospitalization.
And heating soup in the microwave isn't safe if the cook isn't tall enough to
reach the microwave and spills hot soup on himself. That's a major cause of
serious burns in children.
"There's a great hunger for accurate information," says USDA Under Secretary
for Food Safety Dr. Elsa Murano. "People want to know how to keep their families safe and healthy. Education is not a substitute - but a complement - to strong food safety policies and programs. Education serves to alert the public about hazards that exist and can be addressed by safe food handling and food selection."
Before you let kids have the run of the kitchen, USDA advises you to take a
little quiz together:
Quiz: True or False -
- Put backpacks on the floor, not the counter.
- Washing your hands with warm water and soap washes bacteria down the drain.
- You need to wash fruits and vegetables under cold running water before eating.
- Cooked foods should not be put on the same plate that held raw meat or poultry (unless the plate has been thoroughly washed.).
- Lunch meat or deli meat does not need to be refrigerated until the package is opened.
- Don't leave leftovers on the counter for more than 2 hours.
- Always wash your hands after touching raw meat or poultry.
- Eating homemade cookie dough is not safe because it may contain raw eggs.
(Answers: 1, 2, 3, 4, True. 5 - False. 6,7,8 - True.)
Take some time for a "Food Safety Workshop" with your children. Walk them around the
kitchen -- explain how to safely use the microwave and teach them some basic food safety
tips. Check out the USDA FSIS Web site for more information - www.fsis.usda.gov. The
site also includes a variety of games and puzzles.
First of all, don't let children who don't know how to read use the microwave oven.
Reading and understanding directions is extremely important. If they're old enough to
use a microwave, follow these tips:
- Reheat hot dogs until they are hot and steaming. Pierce hot dogs with
a fork before putting them into the microwave oven to keep them from exploding.
- Foods and liquids are heated unevenly in the microwave, so stir or rotate
food midway through cooking. If you don't, you'll have cold spots where harmful
bacteria can survive.
- Cover a dish of food for microwaving with a lid or plastic wrap and wrap loose
to let steam escape. The moist heat will help destroy harmful bacteria.
- To prevent burns, carefully remove food from the microwave oven. Use potholders
and uncover foods away from your face so steam can escape.
- Do not use plastic containers such as margarine tubs or other one-time use
containers in the microwave. They can warp or melt, possibly causing harmful
chemicals to get in the food.
- Do not use metal or aluminum foil containers in the microwave. They can get too
hot and burn. Use only glass and other containers labeled "made for microwave use."
- Throw away leftovers (and any perishable food) that stays out longer than two
hours - or one hour if it's over 90 °F. When in doubt, throw it out!
Science Behind the Kitchen Warnings
Why should you put food back in the refrigerator as soon as possible? Bacteria need
time and the right environment to grow and multiply - such as moisture and warmth. Most
foodborne illness-causing organisms grow quickly above 40 °F. Some bacteria can double
their numbers every 20 minutes at temperatures above 40 °F. In a few hours, bacteria on
food can cause an illness or form "toxins" that might not be fully destroyed by cooking.
Learn How to Fight Bacteria
Put the Fight BAC!® messages on your refrigerator. The Fight BAC!® campaign is a
public-private partnership of industry, consumer groups and the Food Safety and Inspection
Service of USDA and other government agencies. The messages remind consumers how to reduce
the risk of foodborne illness.
- Clean. Wash hands and surfaces often.
- Separate. Separate raw meat, poultry and egg products from cooked
foods to avoid cross-contamination.
- Cook. Raw meat, poultry and egg products need to be cooked thoroughly.
Use a food thermometer to ensure foods have reached a high enough temperature to kill any
harmful bacteria that might be present.
- Chill. Refrigerate promptly.
Teach children to use a food thermometer to check for safety and doneness. If reheating
leftovers, heat to 165 °F. When grilling or re-heating ready-to-eat foods such as hot
dogs and sausages, also heat to 165 °F.
For more food safety information in English and Spanish, call the USDA Meat and Poultry
Hotline toll free at 1-888-MPHotline (1-888-674-6854) or TTY: 1-800-256-7072. You can call
the year-round hotline Monday through Friday from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. EST. Or, listen to timely
recorded food safety messages at the same number 24 hours a day. Check out the FSIS Web site
at http://www.fsis.usda.gov. E-mail questions can be answered