University of Nebraska Cooperative Extension in Lancaster County

Kitchen Safety for Children on Their Own

Alice Henneman, M.S., R.D., Extension Educator
Nancy Malone, Grants Coordinator, Lincoln-Lancaster County Health Department

It's estimated that roughly 7 million American children are "on their own" or are "cared for by a sibling" for short periods of time after school. Often the kitchen is the first place children go when they get home. What are the most important food and safety facts that children should know? Here are some clues to kitchen safety that you will want to remember. 

1. Hands carry lots of germs. The first step in food safety is to wash your hands before making or eating a snack. All you need is a little soap and water. Make sure the water is warm, and lather up. Scrub the back and front of your hands, between the fingers and don't forget your fingernails. Wash for at least 20 seconds. Then rinse under running water and dry with a clean towel.

This may sound nice but not necessary. Proper handwashing, however, could save you from becoming ill.

2. Wash all fruits and vegetables before eating ... use just clear, clean water-no soap. 

3. When using a knife to cut your food, always cut away from your body. 

4. Microwave cooking is fast but can cause serious burns. Check with a grown-up for specific directions before using the microwave oven. Some general tips for safe microwaving include:

    Never turn on an empty oven. This can cause the oven to break. 

    Read package directions carefully. Make sure you know how to set the microwave oven controls (for example, 10 seconds, rather than 10 minutes). 

    Use only microwave-safe cookware. 

    Food coming out of the microwave can be very hot. Never pop any food right from the microwave into your mouth. Allow the food to cool for several minutes before eating. This includes letting microwave popcorn set a few minutes before opening; then open the bag so the opening is pointing away from you. Steam from the bag can cause serious bums. 

    Food gets hot in the microwave. Have potholders handy to remove hot dishes.

5. Hot liquids, not fire, are the most common cause of burns to children. If you get burned working in the kitchen:
    a) Go to the sink and hold the burned area under cool, running water. 

    b) If the burn begins to blister cover it loosely with a sterile gauze, or a clean cloth. 

    c) Tell a grown-up whenever you are burned. If the burn is severe and hurts badly, get help from an adult immediately.

6. Germs grow quickly in foods that are not stored properly (i.e. milk, lunch meat, hard-cooked eggs, yogurt or foods left out on the counter at room temperature). Put these foods back in the refrigerator as soon as you've fixed your snack. 

7. Discard foods like bread, cheese, jelly, fruits, vegetables or any other foods that have mold spots or look bad. Fruits and vegetables that are shriveled or have soft spots should be thrown away. 

8. If you spill something, take the time to clean it up properly. 

9. To use a toaster safely:

    Keep the toaster away from curtains or towels or other things that could catch fire. 

    Plug it directly into the electrical outlet. Avoid using adapters with many other appliances plugged into the same outlet. Unplug toasters and other kitchen appliances when not using them. 

    If toast gets stuck, unplug the toaster. Do not use any object to remove the toast from the toaster. 

    Toasters can catch on fire. If you see flames from any kitchen appliance, tell a grown-up immediately. If an adult is not home, call 911.

10. Use a stove only if you have been trained to use it by an adult. Keep things that will burn away from the stove. Towels, potholders, plastics and paper towels can all catch fire quickly when near direct heat or flames.
    Keep an eye on the stove when cooking food. Turn pan handles away from the front so someone can't knock them off while walking by. Always turn off the stove when you're done cooking.
11. If something on the stove catches fire:
    a) Smother the fire with a lid. 

    b) Turn off the burner. 

    c) Once the fire is out, tell an adult there was a fire. 

    d) Leave the house and call 911 if the fire has leaping flames.


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