Caring for Our Children (CFOC)

Chapter 4: Nutrition and Food Service

4.9 Food Safety

4.9.0 Precautions for a Safe Food Supply

All foods stored, prepared, or served should be safe for human consumption by observation and smell (1-2). The following precautions should be observed for a safe food supply:

  1. Home-canned food; food from dented, rusted, bulging, or leaking cans, and food from cans without labels should not be used;
  2. Foods should be inspected daily for spoilage or signs of mold, and foods that are spoiled or moldy should be promptly and appropriately discarded;
  3. Meat should be from government-inspected sources or otherwise approved by the governing health authority (3);
  4. All dairy products should be pasteurized and Grade A where applicable;
  5. Raw, unpasteurized milk, milk products; unpasteurized fruit juices; and raw or undercooked eggs should not be used. Freshly squeezed fruit or vegetable juice prepared just prior to serving in the child care facility is permissible;
  6. Unless a child’s health care professional documents a different milk product, children from twelve months to two years of age should be served only human milk, formula, whole milk or 2% milk (6). Note: For children between twelve months and two years of age for whom overweight or obesity is a concern or who have a family history of obesity, dyslipidemia, or CVD, the use of reduced-fat milk is appropriate only with written documentation from the child’s primary health care professional (4). Children two years of age and older should be served skim or 1% milk. If cost-saving is required to accommodate a tight budget, dry milk and milk products may be reconstituted in the facility for cooking purposes only, provided that they are prepared, refrigerated, and stored in a sanitary manner, labeled with the date of preparation, and used or discarded within twenty-four hours of preparation;
  7. Meat, fish, poultry, milk, and egg products should be refrigerated or frozen until immediately before use (5);
  8. Frozen foods should be defrosted in one of four ways: In the refrigerator; under cold running water; as part of the cooking process, or by removing food from packaging and using the defrost setting of a microwave oven (5). Note: Frozen human milk should not be defrosted in the microwave;
  9. Frozen foods should never be defrosted by leaving them at room temperature or standing in water that is not kept at refrigerator temperature (5);
  10. All fruits and vegetables should be washed thoroughly with water prior to use (5);
  11. Food should be served promptly after preparation or cooking or should be maintained at temperatures of not less than 135°F for hot foods and not more than 41°F for cold foods (12);
  12. All opened moist foods that have not been served should be covered, dated, and maintained at a temperature of 41°F or lower in the refrigerator or frozen in the freezer, verified by a working thermometer kept in the refrigerator or freezer (12);
  13. Fully cooked and ready-to-serve hot foods should be held for no longer than thirty minutes before being served, or promptly covered and refrigerated;
  14. Pasteurized eggs or egg products should be substituted for raw eggs in the preparation of foods such as Caesar salad, mayonnaise, meringue, eggnog, and ice cream. Pasteurized eggs or egg products should be substituted for recipes in which more than one egg is broken and the eggs are combined, unless the eggs are cooked for an individual child at a single meal and served immediately, such as in omelets or scrambled eggs; or the raw eggs are combined as an ingredient immediately before baking and the eggs are fully cooked to a ready-to-eat form, such as a cake, muffin or bread;
  15. Raw animal foods should be fully cooked to heat all parts of the food to a temperature and for a time of; 145°F or above for fifteen seconds for fish and meat; 160°F for fifteen seconds for chopped or ground fish, chopped or ground meat or raw eggs; or 165°F or above for fifteen seconds for poultry or stuffed fish, stuffed meat, stuffed pasta, stuffed poultry or stuffing containing fish, meat or poultry.
Safe handling of all food is a basic principle to prevent and reduce foodborne illnesses (14). For children, a small dose of infectious or toxic material can lead to serious illness (13). Some molds produce toxins that may cause illness or even death (such as aflatoxin or ergot).

Keeping cold food below 41°F and hot food above 135°F prevents bacterial growth (1,6,12). Food intended for human consumption can become contaminated if left at room temperature.

Foodborne illnesses from Salmonella and E. coli 0157:H7 have been associated with consumption of contaminated, raw, or undercooked egg products, meat, poultry, and seafood. Children tend to be more susceptible to E. coli 0157:H7 infections from consumption of undercooked meats, and such infections can lead to kidney failure and death.

Home-canned food, food from dented, rusted, bulging or leaking cans, or leaking packages/bags of frozen foods, have an increased risk of containing microorganisms or toxins. Users of unlabeled food cans cannot be sure what is in the can and how long the can has been stored.

Excessive heating of foods results in loss of nutritional content and causes foods to lose appeal by altering color, consistency, texture, and taste. Positive learning activities for children, using their senses of seeing and smelling, help them to learn about the food they eat. These sensory experiences are counterproductive when food is overcooked. Children are not only shortchanged of nutrients, but are denied the chance to use their senses fully to learn about foods.

Caregivers/teachers should discourage parents/guardians from bringing home-baked items for the children to share as it is difficult to determine the quality of the ingredients used and the cleanliness of the environment in which the items are baked and transported. Parents/guardians should be informed why home baked items like birthday cake and cupcakes are not the healthiest choice and the facility should provide ideas for healthier alternatives such as fruit cups or fruit salad to celebrate birthdays and other festive events.

Several states allow the sale of raw milk or milk products. These products have been implicated in outbreaks of salmonellosis, listeriosis, toxoplasmosis, and campylobacteriosis and should never be served in child care facilities (7,8). Only pasteurized milk and fruit juices should be served. Foods made with uncooked eggs have been involved in a number of outbreaks of Salmonella infections. Eggs should be well-cooked before being eaten, and only pasteurized eggs or egg substitutes should be used in foods requiring raw eggs.

The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends that children from twelve months to two years of age receive human milk, formula, whole milk, or 2% milk. For children between twelve months and two years of age for whom overweight or obesity is a concern or who have a family history of obesity, dyslipidemia, or CVD, the use of reduced-fat milk is appropriate only with written documentation from the child’s primary health care professional (4). Children two years of age and older can drink skim, or 1%, milk (6,9-11).

Soil particles and contaminants that adhere to fruits and vegetables can cause illness. Therefore, all fruits or vegetables to be eaten and used to make fresh juice at the facility should be thoroughly washed first.

Thawing frozen foods under conditions that expose any of the food’s surfaces to temperatures between 41°F and 135°F promotes the growth of bacteria that may cause illness if ingested. Storing perishable foods at safe temperatures in the refrigerator or freezer reduces the rate at which microorganisms in these foods multiply (12).

The use of dairy products fortified with vitamins A and D is recommended (4).

The FDA provides the following Website for caregivers/teachers to check status of foods and food products that have been recalled, see

Temperatures come from the FDA 2009 Food Code (12). Local or state regulations may differ. Caregivers/teachers should consult with the health department concerning questions on proper cooking temperatures for specific foods.

Center, Early Head Start, Head Start, Large Family Child Care Home, Small Family Child Care Home
RELATED STANDARDS Feeding Cow’s Milk Maintaining Safe Food Temperatures
Appendix U: Recommended Safe Minimum Internal Cooking Temperatures
  1. U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA). 2002. Making nutrition count for children - Nutrition guidance for child care homes. Washington, DC: USDA. http://www/
  2. Enders, J. B. 1994. Food, nutrition and the young child. New York: Merrill.
  3. Potter, M. E. 1984. Unpasteurized milk: The hazards of a health fetish. JAMA 252:2048-52.
  4. Sacks, J. J. 1982. Toxoplasmosis infection associated with raw goat’s milk. JAMA 246:1728-32.
  5. Cowell, C., S. Schlosser. 1998. Food safety in infant and preschool day care. Top Clin Nutr 14:9-15.
  6. Dietz, W.H., L. Stern, eds. 1998. Guide to your child’s nutrition. Elk Grove Village, IL: American Academy of Pediatrics.
  7. U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), Food Safety and Inspection Service. 2000. Keeping kids safe: A guide for safe handling and sanitation, for child care providers. Rev ed. Washington, DC: USDA.
  8. Daniels, S. R., F. R. Greer, Committee on Nutrition. 2008. Lipid screening and cardiovascular health in childhood. Pediatrics 122:198-208.
  9. Kleinman, R. E., ed. 2009. Pediatric nutrition handbook. 6th ed. Elk Grove Village, IL: American Academy of Pediatrics.
  10. Pipes, P. L., C. M. Trahms, eds. 1997. Nutrition in infancy and childhood. 6th ed. New York: McGraw-Hill.
  11. Chicago Dietetic Association. 1996. Manual of clinical dietetics. 5th ed. Chicago, IL: American Dietetic Association.
  12. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, U.S. Department of Agriculture. 2010. Dietary guidelines for Americans, 2010. 7th ed. Washington, DC: U.S. Government Printing Office.
  13. Food Marketing Institute (FMI), U.S. Department of Agriculture, Food Safety and Inspection Service. 1996. Facts about food and floods: A consumer guide to food quality and safe handling after a flood or power outage. Washington, DC: FMI.
  14. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Public Health Service, Food and Drug Administration (FDA). 2009. 2009 Food code. College Park, MD: FDA.