Families across America will soon be sitting down for their annual Thanksgiving feast. But before they can do that, kitchens throughout the land will be the scene of careful, loving food preparation – a perfect opportunity to teach kids about proper food safety.

Children love to help, especially during the holidays when everything is a source of excitement. But with so much cooking going on, everyone needs to be aware of foodborne illnesses that could spoil an otherwise festive occasion.

According to the CDC, 1 in 6 Americans gets sick each year from contaminated foods or beverages. Teaching children good kitchen hygiene and proper disinfection can help reduce the risks of foodborne illnesses.

What’s a Foodborne Germ and What Does It Do?

Germs from some raw foods can make you or your family sick enough to go to a hospital. And remember, food safety is not just about meat, poultry and seafood. A 2013 study by the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention concluded that between 1998 and 2008, vegetables accounted for the single greatest percentage of foodborne illnesses!

Getting Started in the Kitchen

Explain to children that it’s important to clean the kitchen counter before handling raw foods. Start by washing the surface with hot, soapy water – something kids of all ages can help you do. Then moms can follow up with a simple chlorine bleach solution and let air dry to properly disinfect.

For routine countertop sanitizing, use either 1 tablespoon of regular-strength bleach in 1 gallon of water, or 2 teaspoons of high-strength bleach in one gallon of water.

Other Ways to Keep Kids Safe

Here are some other steps your family can take to avoid foodborne germs during the holidays:

Wash Hands

Remind children to wash their hands thoroughly with warm, soapy water before and after they handle each raw food item – not just at the beginning and end of food preparation.

Compartmentalize

Teach kids the importance of keeping fresh fruits and vegetables separate from raw meat, poultry and seafood. This will help reduce the chances of spreading germs from one item to another.

Cook

Explain that meat, poultry and eggs need to be cooked at the appropriate temperatures to kill any bacteria that could make you sick.

Chill

Put leftover turkey or other perishables in the refrigerator, or at 40 degrees Fahrenheit, within two hours of cooking or serving.

If you’re bringing a dish to a holiday gathering, experts recommend packing food in a cooler with ice if you are driving for more than an hour. Keep in mind that dishes that are meant to be served hot, like your favorite casserole, should be prepared the day before, refrigerated and transported on ice – and then simply reheated before serving.

Whether you’re hosting a dinner or arriving as a guest, Thanksgiving is a time to reflect on your blessings and share a great meal with your family – so enjoy.

We wish everyone a safe, healthy and happy Thanksgiving!