Food Safety Guidelines for Child Care Programs

Onion and knife on cutting board

Safe storing, preparing, and serving of foods is just as important in child care programs as serving a balanced diet. Many children and adults get sick from eating foods that are not properly handled. It’s important to follow food safety guidelines carefully whenever you buy, store, prepare, or serve food. Guidelines for food safety begin with food purchasing and continue through storing, preparing, serving, and cleaning up afterwards.

Whether you are a cook in a large child care center, or a family child care provider preparing food for the children in your home, here are some guidelines that those who purchase and prepare food for children in child care should follow in order to keep children safe from foodborne illnesses.

Food Purchasing Tips for Child Care

  • Purchase only inspected meats
  • Select pasteurized milk and 100-percent juices
  • Do not buy or use  food in cans that are leaking or bulging cans of food

Food Storage Tips for Child Care

  • Put away frozen and cold foods promptly after purchasing
  • Rinse fruits and vegetables before use. Even prepackaged, prewashed foods like lettuce, spinach, and carrots can still carry harmful bacteria and need to be washed.
  • Store foods in covered containers in the refrigerator
  • Place thermometers in a visible location in refrigerators and freezers, and check the temperature frequently
    • Keep refrigerator temperature between 32 degrees – 40 degrees F.
    • Keep freezer temperature at 0 degrees F or less.
  • Clean the refrigerator, freezer, and dry food storage areas frequently
  • Store foods and cleaning supplies in separate cupboards
  • Store cleaning supplies in a cupboard that is locked

Preparing Meals for Children in Child Care

  • Wash your hands often with soap and water during food preparation
  • Wash and sanitize work counters and surfaces before and after use
  • Wash and sanitize cutting boards and utensils before using and after each use
  • Use separate cutting boards and utensils for raw meats than the ones you use for fruits, vegetables, and other foods
  • Wash and sanitize can openers after each use
  • Put frozen meats into a pan before placing them in the refrigerator to thaw
  • Never thaw meats on the kitchen counter
  • Cook meats thoroughly, and use a food thermometer to be sure they are fully cooked to the following internal temperatures
    • Steaks and roasts: beef, veal, and lamb – 145 degrees F
    • Ground pork, beef, veal, and lamb – 160 degrees F
    • Whole poultry (take measurement in thigh) – 165 degrees F
    • Fin fish – 145 degrees F or until the flesh is opaque and separates easily with a fork
  • Do not change diapers in areas where you prepare, store, and serve foods
  • Do not allow pets in the kitchen when meals are being prepared and served to children

Serving Meals to Children in Child Care

  • Serve foods on a plate, napkin or bowl rather than directly on the table
  • Discard cracked or chipped plates, cups, and bowls
  • Use serving utensils such as large spoons, tongs, or single-use food service gloves
  • Teach children not to lick serving utensils. If a utensil is licked, remove it and replace with a clean utenil 
  • Give children clean utensils and napkins if these items are dropped during the meal or snack
  • Store leftovers immediately after the meal
  • Discard all leftovers on children’s plates and in serving dishes that were placed on the table where children ate; do not save them for later
  • Discard food waste in a covered garbage can with a liner, and empty the garbage can at the end of the day (or sooner if full)

Appropriate Dish Washing in a Child Care Setting

  • If a dishwasher is used, the rinse temperature should be 180 degrees F to sanitize dishes
  • Follow these steps to wash and sanitize dishes without a dishwasher:
    • Rinse or scrape dishes
    • Wash in hot sudsy water
    • Rinse in clear water
    • Sanitize dishes by submerging in a solution of 1 teaspoon bleach per quart of water for one minute or in 170 degree F water for at least 30 seconds
    • Air dry dishes rather than towel-drying them

For More Information

To learn more about child care mealtimes, take a look at the following eXtension Alliance for Better Child Care articles: