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You, as a childminder, have many responsibilities when you are caring for children in your particular setting. One of these responsibilities is ensuring that any food you provide to children is hygienically prepared and safe for them to eat. Not following good food hygiene practices can put children at serious risk, as they are more vulnerable to foodborne illnesses, allergic reactions and choking from physical hazards in food.
- According to Allergy UK, almost 1 in 12 young children suffer from a food allergy, and they seem to be getting more and more common.
- The Food Standards Agency (FSA) estimates there are approximately 2.4 million cases of foodborne illness occurring every year in the UK, which is up from the 2009 estimate of approximately one million.
- It is estimated there are about four times as many incidents of food poisoning resulting from food prepared in the home than there are from food prepared in commercial premises, such as restaurants, hotels and takeaways (SurreyCC).
- Choking is one of the leading causes of unintentional death for infants (National Safety Council). According to RoSPA, on average, a child dies in the UK every month from choking. Therefore, foreign objects in food can be a real danger for children.
As many childminders care for children in their own homes, these statistics are a stark reminder of how a lack of appropriate food safety and hygiene measures can have serious consequences. Food poisoning, allergic reactions and choking are not uncommon events.
In some cases, they can be life-threatening, and this is especially the case for children aged five and below who are more susceptible. Therefore, all childminders need to comply with the law and have up-to-date knowledge on the best food hygiene practices.
This article will look at why food hygiene is important, the legal requirements and what you can do to prevent harm to the children in your care by ensuring food is safe to eat.
Why is food hygiene important?
Food hygiene is important, as it prevents children from being harmed by food safety hazards, such as:
- Biological – These hazards occur when microorganisms contaminate food, e.g. bacteria (salmonella, E. coli and campylobacter) and viruses (norovirus). These microorganisms can cause food poisoning. Children are more susceptible to infection as their immune systems are not as developed as adults. Dehydration from food poisoning can also develop more quickly and can be severe in children.
- Chemical – These hazards can contaminate food, e.g. hazardous substances, such as cleaning products and pesticides. Due to their size and body mass, children can be more affected by chemical contamination than adults.
- Physical – These hazards can be found naturally in food or are foreign materials and objects that can accidentally enter food. These hazards can injure the mouth, teeth and may even result in choking, e.g. fruit pips, stones, plastic and glass. Children are more susceptible to choking; particularly younger children who are still learning to chew, swallow and breathe.
- Allergenic – These hazards are caused by food allergens. Eating foods containing these allergens can result in severe and dangerous reactions in some children with allergies. This will be covered later.
These food safety hazards are also known as contaminants. If they are not properly controlled, and food is contaminated, it can result in food poisoning, allergic reactions and other types of food-related harm. If a child is harmed whilst in your care due to poor food safety and hygiene practices, this can have serious repercussions. It can result in legal action and damage to your reputation.
This can have significant financial implications and may even result in registration removal and closure of the business. Therefore, you must be aware of applicable food hygiene and safety practices and comply with appropriate laws.
What are the legal requirements?
According to the Food Standards Agency, if a childminder provides food and drink for children and babies, they must comply with food safety and hygiene regulations.
It includes providing:
- Meals, snacks and drinks (not including mains tap water).
- Reheated food from a parent or carer.
- Any food that is cut up and prepared.
Childminders that register with Ofsted will also be registered as a food business with their Local Authority at the same time. This means that they will be inspected by environmental health officers (EHOs) to ensure compliance with food hygiene and safety laws.
Childminders who look after children under five years old must also comply with the statutory requirements and non-statutory requirements of the early years foundation stage (EYFS). There is a section on food and drink that covers the hygienic preparation of food and food allergies.
The Food Standards Agency has a food safety management pack called ‘Safer food, better business for childminders’. This guidance will help you determine whether you should use the pack and, if you do, what you will need to cover to comply with food safety and hygiene regulations.
What are the 4Cs of food hygiene?
The 4Cs of food hygiene are four simple rules, which cover essential food hygiene and safety practices. They will help you, as a childminder, to keep children safe from food safety problems, such as food poisoning. The 4Cs are cleaning, cooking, cross-contamination and chilling.
A clean home is a happy home, and this has never been truer when it comes to keeping children safe from the risk of foodborne illness and other food safety hazards. To prevent the spread of harmful germs and allergens, it is vital to maintain a high standard of cleanliness and tidiness in and around the food areas within your setting.
Effective cleaning and disinfection procedures can reduce the risk of food safety hazards. However, you must take care not to contaminate food with cleaning chemicals.
To ensure that cleaning is effective and carried out to a high standard, you should (this list is not exhaustive):
- Clean and disinfect equipment, surfaces and utensils after use and between tasks, particularly after handling raw food.
- Use the ‘clean as you go’ approach, which will help keep areas constantly clean and tidy.
- Clean up spills immediately and disinfect the area when raw foods are involved.
- Always follow the manufacturer’s instructions on cleaning products, particularly disinfectants and sanitisers, to ensure that they are effective and used safely.
- Have suitable handwashing facilities and wash hands properly before handling any food and between tasks.
- Rinse fruit, salad and vegetables to remove any surface dirt.
- Remove food waste regularly from food preparation areas and dispose of it properly.
Food that requires cooking before being eaten should always be heated thoroughly. Cooking at the correct temperature for the appropriate length of time will ensure that any harmful bacteria are killed, which will prevent children from getting food poisoning.
The cooking method, time and temperature will depend on the type of food you are cooking. You may not cook food for the children in your care, but you will need to ensure precautions are in place when reheating any food.
There are some simple precautions you can take to ensure that food is properly cooked, for example:
- The oven should always be pre-heated sufficiently before putting food in for cooking.
- Always follow the cooking instructions on food packaging and any other advice for reheating, e.g. not reheating more than once.
- Food should be piping hot all the way through. The core temperature of the food should ideally be checked with a digital thermometer probe. Food should be cooked until it has reached at least 70°C and stayed at that temperature for 2 minutes. Reheated food should be at least 75°C.
- When holding hot food, it should be kept to at least 63°C. It can be kept at this temperature for up to two hours . If it is not used after this time, it should be disposed of.
- When heating baby food, additional precautions will have to be taken as per the guidance in the SFBB pack.
Foodborne illnesses are typically caused when harmful bacteria are transferred between people, food, surfaces and equipment. This is known as cross-contamination, and it is one of the most common causes of food poisoning (FSA).
There are three main ways it can occur:
- Food to food, e.g. storing raw foods incorrectly with ready-to-eat foods (raw poultry dripping blood onto a dessert).
- Equipment, including surfaces, to food, e.g. using the same utensils, knives, surfaces, chopping boards for raw and cooked foods or not washing/sanitising them properly.
- People to food, e.g. bacteria from unwashed hands, sneezing, coughing, clothing and hair. Also, touching raw foods and not washing hands before touching ready-to-eat foods.
Cross-contamination can also occur with chemicals, e.g. spraying chemicals in the air that can land on food, surfaces and equipment. Also, preparing food in areas where there are chemical residues on surfaces.
Where allergens are concerned, this is known as cross-contact, and it is where products containing allergens are often unintentionally transferred to allergen-free ones. This can happen where allergen products are used, processed and stored in the same areas where non-allergen products are.
It can also occur from poor hygiene practices, e.g. not sufficiently washing hands, surfaces and equipment. Allergen cross-contact is not affected by cooking. Therefore, it does not reduce the risk of allergic reactions.
There are many ways to prevent cross-contamination. Some examples of how you can achieve this are:
- Wash your hands properly, using warm water, liquid soap and the correct method. They should be washed after any tasks that could result in cross-contamination, e.g. touching raw foods.
- Where possible, use separate areas, equipment, cleaning materials and utensils for:
– Raw foods and cooked/ready-to-eat foods; and
– Allergenic foods and non-allergenic foods.
- Where separate areas, equipment and utensils are not possible, they should be thoroughly cleaned and disinfected.
- Food should be stored correctly in the refrigerator, e.g.:
– Storing raw meat and poultry, fish and eggs below ready-to-eat food.
– Covering cooked and ready-to-eat food.
– Taking care when defrosting raw meat or poultry.
- Never wash meat or poultry, as this can splash bacteria onto surfaces and equipment.
- Store allergenic foods and non-allergenic foods separately.
- Adopt a high standard of cleanliness, which is one of the 4Cs.
Certain foods, such as those with use-by dates, have to be stored chilled for them to be safe. Chilling does not kill harmful bacteria, but it does stop them from growing. Therefore, food must be properly chilled and stored correctly in refrigerators and freezers to be safe for children to eat.
To ensure that food is chilled properly, you should:
- Ensure that your refrigerator temperatures are at 5°C or below and freezer temperatures are at least -18°C or below.
- Never put hot food straight in the refrigerator, as it can raise the temperature and encourage bacterial growth.
- Store food on the correct shelves within the refrigerator, e.g. raw meat and poultry at the bottom.
- Do not overfill the refrigerator.
- Always defrost food in the fridge and in accordance with the instructions on the packaging.
- Store allergenic foods and non-allergenic foods separately.
- Always follow the storage instructions on food packaging and monitor use-by dates and best-before dates.
Top food hygiene tips for childminders
There are many precautions you can put in place to prevent children in your care from food-related harm.
Here are some top tips to help you remember to follow good food hygiene practices:
- Always wash your hands thoroughly and properly before touching food, especially after other unhygienic tasks, e.g. helping a child with toileting or changing a nappy.
- Keep yourself and your clothes clean and tidy.
- Tie your hair back or cover it with a net.
- Avoid touching your face, nose, ears and hair.
- You should have short fingernails and no false nails or nail varnish.
- Do not cough or sneeze over food and preparation areas.
- Avoid wearing watches and jewellery (except a plain wedding band).
- Cover any cuts and sores with waterproof brightly-coloured dressings and plasters.
- Food preparation areas and equipment should be in good condition and kept away from laundry and nappy changing areas where possible.
- If laundry areas are within the kitchen, dirty clothes should not be brought in whilst preparing food. These processes must be kept separate.
- Keep pets away from all food preparation areas and where children eat and drink.
- If you have been sick with diarrhoea and/or vomiting, you should not prepare food. Wait until you have had no symptoms for 48 hours before preparing food.
- Where possible, store raw and ready-to-eat foods separately. If it is not possible, store higher risk foods, e.g. raw meat and poultry, below ready-to-eat and cooked foods.
- Allergen-containing foods must be kept separate from other foods.
- Keep an eye on use-by dates and best-before dates, and dispose of any food that has expired. Do not use any eggs after the best-before date.
Information on allergens
Allergenic hazards can cause severe and dangerous reactions in some children. When a child eats food that contains an allergen that they are allergic to, it produces an abnormal immune response in the body. This response can produce mildly irritating symptoms for some. However, in others, it can trigger anaphylaxis which can be a life-threatening reaction.
Unfortunately, there have been many cases over the last few years where people have died from severe food allergies. According to the Food Standards Agency (FSA), around ten people die every year from food-induced anaphylaxis. Food allergies are getting more common in children, so it is a risk that all childminders must take extremely seriously.
There are 14 recognised allergens, which are:
- Peanuts (groundnuts).
- Celery (all of the plant, including the root celeriac).
- Mustard (liquid, powder and seeds).
- Tree nuts (almonds, hazelnuts, walnuts etc.).
- Sesame (seeds).
- Lupin (flower and seeds).
- Cereals (gluten) (oats, rye and barley).
- Molluscs (oysters, snails and mussels).
- Sulphur dioxide and sulphites.
- Crustaceans (crab, prawns and lobster).
You have a legal responsibility to protect the children in your care from allergen risks. Therefore, all food businesses, including childminders, need to follow laws regarding food allergens and labelling.
The law requires you to provide accurate information about any allergens used as ingredients in the food and drink you provide. The Food Standards Agency allergen guidance for food businesses can help you comply with your legal childminder duties. You can also find out more about the 14 food allergens and labelling by accessing our knowledge base.
Here are some things you can do to prevent harm from allergen-containing foods:
- You must always check whether any children have any food allergies before being introduced to your setting. This is a requirement in the early years foundation stage (EYFS) (3.47).
- Always check the ingredients of any meal, snack or drink for allergens.
- Keep allergen-containing foods away from other foods that do not contain any.
- Follow the rules for cross-contamination and cross-contact.
- Know what to do if a child in your care has an allergic reaction.
Children are classed as a vulnerable group and are therefore susceptible to food poisoning, allergic reactions and other food-related harm. Therefore, all childminders must take food safety and hygiene extremely seriously in their settings and comply with the law at all times. If a child is harmed whilst in your care because of poor food hygiene and safety practices, this can result in serious consequences for your childminding business.
You must always follow good food hygiene practices and the 4Cs; cleaning, cross-contamination, cooking and chilling. By doing this, you will protect the children entrusted to your care and keep their parents/carers happy. You will also keep your business on the right side of the law.
The ‘Safer food, better business for childminders’ pack will help you comply with the law and provides guidance on following good food hygiene practices. If you are unsure whether the pack applies to you or if you have any other concerns, always contact your Local Authority (environmental health officers) for further advice.