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Approximately 29.8 million students, per day, participate in the National School Lunch Program across the country.¹ With that many students in the cafeteria, schools need to ensure and establish a safe environment.
There are many facets to student safety. Meals need to be prepared appropriately with special dietary considerations. Visitors need to be accounted for and cleared for access. Interpersonal safety needs to be monitored. And finally, safety hazards need to be taken into consideration to prevent accidents.
The first and most obvious safety concern for a school cafeteria is the food. Are meals prepared appropriately? Is the kitchen clean? Are the meals offered healthy?
Whether school-provided lunches are healthy or not has been an ongoing debate for decades. Many schools suffer from funding issues to provide truly healthy meals, but with programs like the NSLP, schools have slowly improved the quality of their provided meals. However, there are still a number of safety factors to consider.
Whether your school offers multiple options or has a set schedule, the food provided to students should be monitored to prevent avoidable emergencies. Offering allergy-friendly or dietary restricted options will ensure students stay safe and healthy during their meal period. Alternatively, it is good practice to adequately advertise meal days so parents or students can make plans to bring lunch.
As a parent or educational professional, you can reach out to school administration to see what steps are being taken to ensure student dietary restrictions are taken into account when planning meals. Many schools already have their own system in place of monitoring these specific needs, but the safety of school-age children should always be kept up-to-date and tracked.
An inclusive menu is integral in preventing severe reactions to certain foods.
We addressed the idea of including allergies on name tags in the past, and the main idea is that including this information makes prevention of allergic reactions easier. Approximately 5.6 million children under the age of 18 have food allergies.² Identifying the types of reactions that result from exposure to allergens is imperative to a child’s health and safety. There are a wide variety of symptoms but there are some common reactions to watch for. Everyone is different, so each child may react differently to allergens. The following are just a few common reactions:³
- Swelling of lips or tongue
- Difficulty breathing
- Throat tightness
There are many symptoms and reactions that can occur due to allergies. It is the responsibility of educators and other school faculty to be able to quickly identify potentially life-threatening allergic reactions should affected students be exposed.
An organized method of tracking food safety measures can help maintain the health of students.
Food Safety Checklist
Maintaining a checklist of food safety protocols will keep students healthy. While the dietary needs and available resources will differ from school to school, the same general ideas can apply almost universally and come from basic principals concerning food preparation. Here is a short list of things to consider for a food safety checklist:
- Common allergens & the students they affect
- Minimum internal temperatures
- Proper preparation techniques
- Minimum cleaning standards
While some schools may lack the resources to keep an extensive list, ensuring that rules and policies are in place to meet minimal health and safety protocols is imperative for maintaining a school cafeteria.
Food safety is perhaps the most obvious precaution for cafeterias. However, measures concerning visitors should be taken in order to ensure a safe environment.
Many schools welcome guests for any number of reasons. Perhaps they bring in a field expert for a specific class or a guest speaker to address a certain topic. Parent’s day is also a common school event. Whatever the reason, inviting visitors on school grounds often means providing meals for them within the cafeteria. Tracking guests means ensuring and taking responsibility for their actions during their visit.
Visitor badges and photo IDs are perfect for quickly identifying individuals who are allowed on school property. The process should involve some form of check-in protocol, informing the visitor of your identification policies, and issuing the appropriate identification. Along with ease of identification, ID badges can also display important dietary concerns for visitors as well as students.
It’s imperative to student safety to keep unregistered guests and other individuals away from school grounds. Without proper tracking and identification of visitors, it becomes difficult to monitor unusual, infrequent, or unwelcome individuals.
Interpersonal safety should be monitored during everyday school activities. This not only applies to adult and child interactions, but also to the relationships between students and peers.
According to the National Center for Education Statistics, nearly 21% of students report being bullied, and of that number, 22% of incidents occur in the cafeteria.4 Bullying has been an ongoing issue that many organizations, including the United States government, strive to reduce.
While the complete eradication of bullying may be impossible, it can be reduced and prevented to a certain degree. A 2013 study showed that the implementation of anti-bullying programs within schools reduces “bullying behavior by 20%-23%….”5
Bullying is a serious issue which is why so many groups are dedicated to decreasing its frequency. While it may prove difficult to monitor students for the entirety of their time at school, the cafeteria is an easier space to supervise their activities. It is then the responsibility of school faculty to identify bullying behaviors and to intervene when appropriate.
Aside from bullying, schools are responsible for ensuring students are in a safe environment free of hazards.
Cafeterias can contain hazardous materials and unsafe food prep implementation. Between hot oils and stove tops, glass containers, and sharp kitchen tools, there are a great number of hazards that exist within lunch rooms. Schools need to keep their cafeterias and other dining spaces clear of dangerous materials or adequately mark hazards to properly warn students and visitors.
Properly trained cafeteria and custodial staff will adhere to all policies and procedures, which aids in the prevention of emergencies. However, in the case of an emergency, designated medical staff should be readily available. Some schools may even offer first aid training to teachers and custodial staff. This will prevent potential tragedies should a student be exposed to wet surfaces, sharp implements, hot oils, or other hazardous materials while in a cafeteria space as well as protect your institution from liability concerns.
School cafeterias have special safety concerns as well as the common procedures all educational facilities should have.
- The cafeteria’s primary function is to offer a dining experience, so it is imperative to make dietary and allergy concerns a top priority.
- Visitors need to be easily identifiable while they’re on campus or dining with their child.
- Teachers and other faculty need to supervise student activities during meals to identify and curtail bullying.
- Finally, safety hazards need to be either removed or adequately marked in order to avoid injury.
Name Tag Wizard has a wide variety of name badges to increase school safety and security. From teacher name tags to visitor passes to generic designs, you can find name tags to fit your facility’s needs.
- USDA National School Lunch Program Report
- Hopkins Medicine
- National Bullying Prevention Center
- McCallion & Feder, 2013