Food Safety In School Canteens

Incidents of food poisoning happens especially when kids consume food from school canteens as opposed to packed lunch from home. This is obviously a worry for most parents out there – is the school canteen providing clean, fresh food? Meftahuddin states in this issue of the MJM that the reported incidence rates of major food borne diseases had steadily declined from the years 1988 to 1997 except for food poisoning and cholera. Investigation of food poisoning outbreaks from the year 1996 to 1997 showed that 66.5% of the outbreaks occurred in schools whereas only 0.4% originated from the contaminated food sold at various public food outlets. This data could be the result of biased reporting as outbreaks in residential schools are easily detected and in nearly all instances the affected students would be sent to a hospital. That being said, food hygiene should be of the utmost priority and school canteens should follow these guidelines:


What’s the best way to display the food?

All food served in the school canteen must be wrapped or covered when on display. Unpackaged self-serving food must have tongs, spoons, bags or paperbags ready for students to serve themselves without touching the food directly. Hot food like noodles, rice and dishes must be kept hot (60°C or above) when displayed. Similarly, cold foods like sandwiches, salads and milk drinks must be kept cold on display (5°C or below).

Handling potentially hazardous foods.

School canteens must be particularly careful when handling potentially hazardous foods such as raw and cooked meats, dairy products, seafood, unpasteurized juice, cooked rice, pasta and products containing raw eggs. This does not mean you can’t use them, only that you must be extra careful when preparing, cooking, serving and storing these food.

The canteen manager should be responsible for ensuring that all food handlers (whether staff or volunteers) are confident and competent enough to undertake the task required of them. Managers should show food handlers what to do and supervise them until they are comfortable doing the task. Don’t assume they will know what to do. Check first! Canteen managers would benefit from attending an accredited food hygiene training course.

Remember; don’t reheat food more than once!

Food can be defrosted in 2 ways. If you have time to plan ahead then you can defrost food that are covered or in a container in the fridge. Smaller amounts of food can be defrosted in the microwave. Remember to use the defrost setting. Bacteria that cause food poisoning grow rapidly between 5°C and 60°C (the temperature danger zone). Food left in the temperature danger zone (eg out of the fridge or food warmer) for longer than 2 hours is dangerous. Refrigerate leftovers as soon as possible and when reheating, make sure they are steaming hot before serving. Keep hot foods hot and cold foods cold and don’t leave them at room temperature for more than 2 hours.


  1. Meftahuddin T, Review of the Trends and Causes of Foodborne Outbreaks in Malaysia from 1988 to 1997. Med] Malaysia 2002; 57; 70-79.