6 ways to keep your child safe from food-borne illness
Created by Megha Grover Updated on Aug 14, 2015
4- year-old Advay complained of severe stomach ache one, normal regular afternoon. By the time, his mother could take charge, he had already vomited three times, was not even able to retain water and was displaying concerning symptom of lethargy. He jut wouldn’t get down from his mother’s lap. Late on the same evening, he was writhing in the emergency ward of the hospital, with painful IV drip attached to his palm. Reason: A severe case of food-borne illness or what we popularly know as food poisoning.
Food-borne illnesses are caused by foods or beverages that contain harmful bacteria. This could be contaminated food, or leftovers gone bad, or even natural toxins found in some foods such as poisonous mushrooms. Most of these illnesses are acute and show symptoms suddenly. Often people recover on their own, but in serious conditions they even end up in emergency ward of hospitals.
Who Are at High Risk?
It is not that only children get infected by the food-borne illnesses. Anyone can become the victim of food-borne illnesses. However, people at high risk are:
• Infants and small children
• Pregnant women
• Old people
• People who have just recovered from some illness
• People having a weak immune system
Symptoms of Food-Borne Illnesses
The symptoms and the severity of the symptoms depends on various factors such as the amount of consumption of the contaminated food, the general immunity of the patient and the promptness in administering the patient with the right medication. But broadly, the symptoms are:
• Stomach ache or cramps
• Blurred vision
Tips for Preventing Food-Borne Illnesses in Children
While food-borne illnesses tend to peak in the monsoons (thanks to the high levels of heat and immunity which spoil food faster than we can recognize), they can strike anytime of the year if the source of food being consumed is contaminated. Have a quick look at the tips for preventing food-borne illnesses, especially in children.
1. Check the Packet of Food Before Buying
No matter whether you are buying fruits and vegetables or packed food (especially grocery items such as bread, milk, eggs etc. which generally have a short shelf-life), make sure you buy the freshest one. When buying packed food items do not forget to check the label of the packaging and make sure there is enough time for the expiry date. Some perishable food items are packed with the label, “use by” or “use before”. Ensure you use the food before the mentioned date.
Tip: When buying eggs, pick ones that are not cracked; watch for any unacceptable odour or slipperiness when you buy fruits. Do not taste the fruit in the shop because harmful bacteria or germs may be present on them and would enter your body.
2. Wash Fruits and Vegetables Properly Before Using
Never give fruits or raw vegetables to your child for eating before washing them properly. There are some dangerous pathogens that may be on the skin of the fruits and vegetables and if not cleaned thoroughly, may enter your system. Therefore, wash and scrub all fruits immediately after you bring them home. It is advisable to rewash them before using them.
Tip: Soak intact fruits, which you may want to eat with the skin, such as apples, grapes, jamun etc., in a bucket of clean water. Dry them on a kitchen towel thoroughly and then store. There are some vegetable and fruit washes available these days in the market, you may check them.
3. Be Careful When Using Perishable Food
There are certain foods that you should be very careful about when serving to your children. Uncooked sprouts, raw eggs and fresh juices or un-pasteurized milk are among high-risk foods. Meat and chicken too requires very thorough cleaning. Food items that require refrigeration must be kept in fridge set at lower degrees immediately.
Tip: Cold cuts such as salamis also fall into high-risk foods for small children. If you must, cook the salami on a non-stick pan before serving. Cooking takes care of some pathogens, though not all.
4. Cook Food Properly
Foods should be cooked properly and long enough so that the bacteria and germs, if present, get killed in the process. Reheat the leftovers for slightly longer time than you require so that you are sure that the food is consumable. Do not give leftover food to kids. Always give them freshly prepared foods to avoid food-borne illnesses.
Tip: When you cook food, pay special attention to the chopping boards. Clean them with vinegar to disinfect them properly. Keep separate chopping boards for meat and non-meat items. Also, chopping boards should be of non-porous material and should be replaced periodically.
5. Hot Foods Should be Kept Hot, While Cold Ones Cold
It is very important that you store food as soon as possible after cooking. The food items that need to be kept hot should be kept hot and the food items that are recommended to be stored at lower temperature should be kept in fridge immediately.
Tip: Thawing frozen food before cooking by leaving it on the counter to defrost is not suggested. Thawing process gives enough time for bacteria to set in. If using frozen food that needs to be fried, put straight from the freezer into the wok.
6. Use Healthy Habits and Maintain Hygiene
Wash your hands before eating and make sure you teach your child to do the same every time they eat. It is recommended that one should wash hands at least for 20 seconds and by rubbing both palms against each other. Take care of the cleanliness of the utensils and kitchen platform where you cook and keep food items aside.
Tip: Keep ample supply of disposable kitchen towels for your child. Kitchen mops, and napkins harbour dangerous pathogens, which may or may not go away with washing.
How to Relieve the Symptoms of Food-Borne Illnesses in Children?
Infants and children should be attended immediately after seeing one or more symptoms of food-borne illnesses. The first and most important thing is to prevent the infected child from getting dehydrated. So, give oral rehydration solutions especially if the child is showing symptoms of nausea. Offer food only when the child feels hungry. If the child is still an infant, you should continue giving breast milk or formula milk along with oral rehydration solutions.
When to Seek Medical Attention?
If the child is not able to take in anything, even water or rehydration solution, you should immediately get medical attention. Also, if the symptoms are seen in the child for long period of time, consult a doctor.
The best thing to reduce the risks of food-borne illnesses in children is to practice food safety measures at home. Keep in mind the basic tips like washing, cooking and refrigerating food items and follow them daily. Cook all foods to proper temperature, wash raw fruits and vegetables, cook meat and poultry thoroughly and wash your hands frequently during the day.