Now that children are heading back to school to feed their hungry minds, parents are turning their attention to feeding hungry bodies with healthy and nutritious snacks at home. According to USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS), tips were issued to keep kids safe from food poisoning as they prepare their favorite treats, sometimes unsupervised by mom or dad.

“Consumers of all ages need to be aware that bacteria in food can make them sick, but there are ways to reduce their risk of food poisoning,” according to Under Secretary for Food Safety Dr. Elisabeth Hagen. Now is an excellent opportunity for parents and kids to review the importance of food safety in the kitchen.

Keep it clean:

Keep books, book bags, and sporting equipment off of food preparation and eating surfaces, such as counters or the kitchen table where germs could be transferred to the food you eat. Wash your hands. Hands carry lots of germs, and not washing hands is a top cause of foodborne illness. This is especially important after greeting the family pet, giving it a treat, or even touching its toys. Always use clean spoons, forks, and plates. Wash fruits and vegetables with running tap water before you eat them, even if you plan to peel them. Do not leave cold items, like milk, lunchmeat, hard cooked eggs or yogurt, out on the counter at room temperature. Put these foods back in the refrigerator as soon as you have fixed your snack.

Avoid these foods:

Any perishable food left out overnight, such as pizza, even if it is not topped with meat. Food that has to be cooked or refrigerated should never be left out for more than two hours. Lunchbox leftovers, like perishable sandwiches or other foods that need refrigeration which were not eaten at school. Throw out these and their plastic or foil wrapping, instead of saving them for later use. Unbaked cookie dough, because it may contain raw eggs that can have Salmonella bacteria. Bread, cheese, or soft fruits or vegetables that look bad or have even small spots of mold.

Microwave food carefully:

Use only microwave-safe plates, bowls, and utensils. Some containers can melt or warp, and they may leak harmful chemicals into your food. Ask your parents to keep microwave-safe dishes in a certain cabinet. Read package instructions carefully, or ask your parents what settings to use for your favorite snacks. If a microwaveable meal says to let the food “stand” after the timer goes off, don’t skip this step. The food is still cooking even though the microwave has stopped. Cover food with a lid, plastic wrap, or wax paper, turning up one corner to let steam escape. Also, rotate or stir the food halfway through cooking. This helps to heat food evenly and removes cold spots, which better destroys any bacteria that could be present. Microwave hot dogs, luncheon meats, fully cooked ham and leftovers until they are steaming hot. This indicates that they are at a temperature hot enough to destroy bacteria. Just let the food cool for a few minutes so you don’t burn your mouth!

Talking with children about these tips will keep them safe, when they stay home alone.