Caring for Our Children (CFOC)

Chapter 4: Nutrition and Food Service

4.5 Meal Service, Seating, and Supervision

4.5.0 Tableware and Feeding Utensils

Tableware and feeding utensils should meet the following requirements:

  1. Dishes should have smooth, hard, glazed surfaces and should be free from cracks or chips. Sharp-edged plastic utensils (intended for use in the mouth) or dishes that have sharp or jagged edges should not be used;
  2. Imported dishes and imported ceramic dishware or pottery should be certified by the regulatory health authority to meet U.S. standards and to be safe from lead or other heavy metals before they can be used;
  3. Disposable tableware (such as plates, cups, utensils made of heavy weight paper, food-grade medium- weight or BPA- or phthalates-free plastic) should be permitted for single service if they are discarded after use. The facility should not use foam tableware for children under four years of age (1,2);
  4. Single-service articles (such as napkins, paper placemats, paper tablecloths, and paper towels) should be discarded after one use;
  5. Washable bibs, placemats, napkins, and tablecloths, if used, should be laundered or washed, rinsed, and sanitized after each meal. Fabric articles should be sanitized by being machine-washed and dried after each use;
  6. Highchair trays, plates, and all items used in food service that are not disposable should be washed, rinsed, and sanitized. Highchair trays that are used for eating should be washed, rinsed, and sanitized just before and immediately after they are used for eating. Children who eat at tables should have disposable or washed and sanitized plates for their food;
  7. All surfaces in contact with food should be lead-free (3);
  8. Tableware and feeding utensils should be child-sized and developmentally appropriate.
Clean food service utensils, napkins, bibs, and tablecloths prevent the spread of microorganisms that can cause disease. The surfaces that are in contact with food must be sanitary.

Food should not be put directly on the table surface for two reasons. First, even washed and sanitized tables are more likely to be contaminated than disposable plates or washed and sanitized dishes. Second, eating from plates reduces contamination of the table surface when children put down their partially eaten food while they are eating.

Although highchair trays can be considered tables, they function as plates for seated children. The tray should be washed and sanitized before and after use (4). The use of disposable items eliminates the spread of contamination and disease and fosters safety and injury prevention. Single-service items are usually porous and should not be washed and reused. Items intended for reuse must be capable of being washed, rinsed, and sanitized.

Medium-weight plastic should be chosen because lighter-weight plastic utensils are more likely to have sharp edges and break off small pieces easily. Sharp-edged plastic spoons can cut soft oral tissues, especially when an adult is feeding a child and slides the spoon out of the child’s closed mouth. Older children can cut their mouth tissues in the same way.

Foam can break into pieces that can become choking hazards for young children.

Imported dishware may be improperly fired and may release toxic levels of lead into food. U.S. government standards prevent the marketing of domestic dishes with lead in their glazes. There is no safe level of lead in dishware.

Ideally, food should not be placed directly on highchair trays, as studies have shown that highchair trays can be loaded with infectious microorganisms. If the highchair tray is made of plastic, is in good repair, and is free from cracks and crevices, it can be made safe if it is washed and sanitized before placing a child in the chair for feeding and if the tray is washed and sanitized after each child has been fed. Food must not be placed directly on highchair trays made of wood or metal, other than stainless steel, to prevent contamination by infectious microorganisms or toxicity from metals.

If there is a question about whether tableware is safe and sanitary, consult the regulatory health authority or local health department.

Center, Early Head Start, Head Start, Large Family Child Care Home, Small Family Child Care Home
RELATED STANDARDS Cleaning Food Areas and Equipment Plastic Containers and Toys
  1. Eco-Healthy Child Care. 2016. Plastics & plastic toys.
  2. Safer Chemicals, Healthy Families. 2017. Styrene and styrofoam 101.
  3. Center for Disease Control and Prevention. 2017. Lead.
  4. Kimberlin, D.W., Brady, M.T., Jackson, M.A., Long, S.S., eds. 2015. Recommendations for care of children in special circumstances. In: Red Book: 2015 Report to the Committee of Infectious Diseases. 30th Ed. Elk Grove Village, IL: American Academy of Pediatrics.