Preventing Foodborne Illnesses

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), anyone can get food poisoning, but children under age 5 are more likely to get sick or have a more serious illness.  The importance of running a safe kitchen is increased when serving meals in a child care center.

The CDC estimates that each year 48 million people get sick from a foodborne illness, 128,000 are hospitalized, and 3,000 die.

Young children under age 5 are still developing their immune systems, so have a less developed ability to fight germs and sickness.  Additionally,  children under age 5  three times more likely to be hospitalized if they get a Salmonella infection.


According to The Pew Health Group’s document Making our Food Safe- Children and Foodborne Illness, young children are at high risk for foodborne illness for many reasons, including:

  • Still-developing immune systems, impeding their ability to fight infection
  • Lower body weight, reducing the dose of a pathogen needed to sicken them
  • Limited control over their diet and related food safety risks
  • Reduced stomach acid production, decreasing their capacity to kill harmful bacteria

Optional extension activity: review the CDC website How Food Gets Contaminated – The Food Production Chain

How can you prevent foodborne illnesses?

The CDC and recommend following 4 simple steps:  Clean, Separate, Cook, and Chill

CLEAN: Wash your hands and surfaces often.

  • Germs that cause food poisoning can survive in many places and spread around your kitchen.
  • Wash hands for 20 seconds with soap and water before, during, and after preparing food and before eating.
  • Wash your utensils, cutting boards, and countertops with hot, soapy water.
  • Rinse fresh fruits and vegetables under running water.

SEPARATE: Don’t cross-contaminate.

  • Raw meat, poultry, seafood, and eggs can spread germs to ready-to-eat foods—unless you keep them separate.
    • Use separate cutting boards and plates for raw meat, poultry, and seafood.
    • When grocery shopping, keep raw meat, poultry, seafood, and their juices away from other foods.
    • Keep raw meat, poultry, seafood, and eggs separate from all other foods in the fridge.

COOK: To the right temperature.

  • Food is safely cooked when the internal temperature gets high enough to kill germs that can make you sick. The only way to tell if food is safely cooked is to use a food thermometer. You can’t tell if food is safely cooked by checking its color and texture.
  • Use a food thermometer to ensure foods are cooked to a safe internal temperature. Check this chart for a detailed list of foods and temperatures.
    • 145°F for whole cuts of beef, pork, veal, and lamb (then allow the meat to rest for 3 minutes before carving or eating)
    • 160°F for ground meats, such as beef and pork
    • 165°F for all poultry, including ground chicken and turkey
    • 165°F for leftovers and casseroles
    • 145°F for fresh ham (raw)
    • 145°F for fin fish or cook until flesh is opaque

CHILL: Refrigerate promptly.

  • Keep your refrigerator below 40°F and know when to throw food out.
  • Refrigerate perishable food within 2 hours. (If outdoor temperature is above 90°F, refrigerate within 1 hour.)
  • Thaw frozen food safely in the refrigerator, in cold water, or in the microwave. Never thaw foods on the counter, because bacteria multiply quickly in the parts of the food that reach room temperature.


Bacteria can multiply rapidly if left at room temperature or in the “Danger Zone” between 40°F and 140°F. Never leave perishable food out for more than 2 hours (or 1 hour if it’s hotter than 90° F outside).

Optional extension activity: review for detailed information about each of the 4 steps