Serving up safety at end-of-year festive celebrations

Published on Tuesday, 24 November 2020
Last updated on Monday, 23 November 2020

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While the pandemic has disrupted end-of-year celebrations across the globe, New Zealand is one of a few countries allowing early learning centres to throw open their doors for an end-of-year celebration with no physical distancing requirements or limits on the number of people who can attend.

Creating a memorable celebration is a valuable experience for educators, children and their families especially if older children are saying farewell to their early years education as they transition to primary school.

As the pandemic still lingers, health and safety issues are more important than ever, especially at events. With a focus on food and beverage safety, we’ve put together suggestions to assess the risks and mitigation potential to help plan a fun, meaningful and safe celebration.

COVID-19 safety requirements

An event risk assessment is an essential part of your planning process to ensure the safety of the children, staff and attendees. At Alert Level 1 status, all early learning services are still required to display QR Code posters for the NZ COVID Tracer App. This should be in a prominent place at or near the entrances. A sign-in register should also be available for people who cannot use the QR poster.

Everyone attending your event needs to ensure they are recorded as being onsite – through the staff rosters and visitor register – and must follow appropriate hygiene measures. Attendees should have access to appropriate hand washing facilities with soap and water, and the ability to dry their hands thoroughly. Alcohol-based hand sanitiser should be available.

Using an appropriate cleaning solution, keep communal areas such as bathrooms and high-touch surfaces like door handles clean. Shared equipment also needs to be thoroughly cleaned. 

Food and beverage risks assessment

Early education centres are considered high-risk locations for food-related illness, with Ministry of Health surveillance reporting showing:

  • They were either the second-or-third-highest common setting for outbreaks of food-related illness – for example, 90 per of the cases are gastrointestinal
  • They had the second-highest number of individual cases of food-related illness. This means that significant numbers of vulnerable children and others in early education settings were affected.

Serving food and hot beverages in the same place as babies and young children is inherently risky. These risks can include burns and scalds. Data from the Burns Registry of Australia and New Zealand (BRANZ) show that during 2016/17, nearly 1,000 Australian and New Zealand children were admitted to a burn’s unit. Scalds were the most common cause of burns in children at 57 per cent, followed by contact at 23 per cent and flame caused 10 per cent of burns. For safety reasons hot drinks need to be away from table or bench edges and it is advisable never to hold a child with a hot drink in hand.

Food allergies are an issue when providing food. The most common triggers are egg, cow's milk, peanut, tree nuts, sesame, soy, fish, shellfish, and wheat. According to Allergy New Zealand studies have found that up to 40-50 per cent of eczema cases in young children are triggered by food allergy. There are between six and eight per cent of children with a food allergy, and between two and four per cent are adults. A new study from Melbourne has now put that number at one in ten children under the age of one. 

Allergy New Zealand has developed guidelines and drawn together resources to assist educators put safety systems in place, the three key objectives are to:

  • Minimise a child’s exposure to triggers (allergens) as much as possible
  • Ensure staff are prepared at all times to respond appropriately in case of a life-threatening reaction (anaphylaxis)
  • Ensure children/students with allergies are able to participate in the same educational and recreational activities as their peers.

Food-related choking is also a key consideration at a catered event. While family members are there to watch their young children, it’s important to be mindful of the food that may pose risks.

Avoid foods that are more likely to cause choking. The kinds of foods commonly associated with choking incidents include small hard foods like pieces or raw carrot or apple as well as small round foods like grapes, cherry tomatoes or fruits with large seeds.

To help your planning, ask yourself the following questions when determining how you will mitigate the risks associated with providing hot beverages and food to parents and carers:

  1. Will your service offer only hot beverages?
  2. Or food as well?
  3. When will adults collect their hot beverage or food—when entering the service, or exiting?
  4. How will you ensure beverage and food preparation is hygienic?
  5. Will parents and carers need to walk through any areas where there are children?
  6. Will they serve themselves?
  7. If so, who will manage the self-service area and how?
  8. What type of cups will your service use – disposable or non-disposable?
  9. If disposable, are the lids screw-on and secure or do they come off easily if dropped or bumped?
  10. Can an adult open the entry and exit gates or doors one-handed while holding food or hot beverages?
  11. Is the entry and exit foyer wide enough for people to pass each other without bumping?
  12. Does your service’s insurance cover include burns or scalds?
  13. Will you allow adults holding children who are unable to walk to make or drink a hot beverage?
  14. Can adults making a hot beverage thermostatically control its temperature?
  15. Does the service have a burns and scalds action plan?
  16. How will educators and staff manage allergic reactions?
  17. How will educators and staff manage choking?
  18. Is your first-aid kit suitably equipped?

References and further reading:

Food Standards Australia and New Zealand: Information and resource links for childcare centres

Allergy New Zealand: Allergy and anaphylaxis guidelines for early childhood services and schools

Heart Foundation: Food related choking in young children

Ministry for Primary Industries: Food safety Fact Sheet

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