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Food Safety in Schools

When food is made available at schools the school is acting as a food premises and must comply with the Ontario’s Health Protection and Promotion Act, Food Premises Regulation (O. Reg 493/17). Ensuring food safety is especially important in schools, as children are at a higher risk of acquiring a foodborne illness.

Key requirements of the Ontario Food Premises Regulation

The Regulation includes but is not limited to; minimum requirements for food temperatures, food handling, sanitation, dishwashing and personal hygiene practices. These are summarized below:

The owner/operator of a food premises must inform the health unit of their intent to build, or modify existing facilities by calling Health Connection at 1-877-721-7520, ext. 8811 or email.

  • The school board is the “owner” of all food premises within school board buildings.
  • The “operator” for each food premises varies: Third party food service providers are considered their own separate food premises and act as their own operator. The principal at each school is the operator of all other food premises within a specific school.

There are several situations in which a school operates as a food premises and must comply with the Ontario Food Premises Regulation.

  • A school operates as a regular food service premise when food or milk is provided on an on-going basis. This includes: food cafeteria services, high school hospitality programs, Student Nutrition Programs (SNPs).
  • A school operates as a regular food premise when only low-risk food is served. For example: student nutrition programs offering low-risk, such as single serve yogurt/milk, granola bars, whole fruit or fruit cups, etc.

Special Events in Schools:

  • Schools operate as a temporary food premise (open to the public) anytime they host a special event at which food is provided to the community for a short-term time period. Examples include: sporting events, school BBQs, bake sales, etc.
  • Schools also operate as a temporary food premise (with invited guests) when food or milk is provided to a specific group of students, staff and/or families for a short-term period. Examples include: school gardening initiatives, school-wide celebrations, bake sales, lunch programs (milk program, pizza day), etc.

Classroom food initiatives and celebrations:

  • Schools are not considered to be a food premises when food is provided in small quantities within a classroom. Examples include: classroom celebrations, tasting a small amount of a plant grown in science class, etc.

Part IV of the Food Premises Regulation describes the specific requirements for ensuring a clean and safe environment for food preparation and consumption such as:

  • Types and concentrations of sanitization products and chemicals
  • Facilities and equipment requirements, e.g. handwashing sinks
  • Specifications for dish-washing and mechanical dishwashers.

 Please note:  the use of residential dishwashers in schools must be approved by the Medical Officer of Health.

Additional resources that provide food safety information:

The owner/operator of all food premises must keep records for pest control measures that have occurred within each school, including the actions taken by third-party operators.

A certified food handler is required on premise during the hours of operation, for all regular food service premises and temporary special events (open to the public). In special circumstances this requirement may be waived if only low-risk foods such as single serve yogurt/milk, granola bars, whole fruit or fruit cups, etc. are served.

Additional requirements for special events can be found below.

In order to become a Certified Food Handler, an Ontario Ministry of Health and Long-Term Care approved Food Handler Certification training course must be completed and requires a 70% pass on the training exam. A food handler certificate will be issued and is valid in the province of Ontario for five years. Schools operating regular food service premises and/or temporary special events (open to the public) should ensure that a minimum of two employees are trained (that a primary and a back-up food handler) and available on premise during operating hours.

The health unit has some resources to help your school with special events planning:

Schools might need a permit for some special events. Contact a public health inspector early in your planning stages to find out if you need one.

Exemptions exist for food premises that prepare or serve only low risk and/or prepackaged food items.

  • The specific handwashing stations listed in the regulations. Food handlers are still required to wash their hands at any available sink provided it is supplied with liquid soap, paper towel or an air dryer.
  • The specific dishwashing equipment listed in the regulations. Cleaning and sanitizing dishes and utensils after each use is required by using a domestic dishwasher, two-sink or three sink method. If the proper number of sinks are not available, substituting the last sink may be an option. Speak with a public health inspector to discuss your options.
  • The need to have a Certified Food Handler on premise during hours of operation. It is recommended that staff and volunteers are provided with food safety knowledge and training.

The health unit has a responsibility to inspect all food premises in Simcoe County and the District of Muskoka. All schools operating as regular food service premises and temporary special events (open to the public) will be inspected at least once per calendar year. All other food premises will be inspected if there is an inquiry or complaint. Effort will be made to ensure the inspection occurs during the operating hours of the food program.

During the first annual inspection of regular food premises, a risk assessment will be conducted; additional inspections will be scheduled based on the risk assigned. Some factors that determine risk categories include the types of food being served and the steps involved in preparation.

  • Low risk - inspection once annually
  • Moderate risk - twice annually
  • High risk - three times annually.

The results of food safety inspections will be reviewed and discussed with the school principal (or designate) and a copy of the written report will be provided at time of inspection. Each premises will receive a certificate of inspection that must be posted in an area that is visible to the public (e.g. within the cafeteria, and for student nutrition programs within the office administration area). The public health inspector will discuss the location at the time of inspection.

Results of food safety inspections are also made available for public access on the health unit’s Inspection Connection website.

  • Serving Healthy and Safe Food at School: Offering safe and nutritious food at school can help support student well-being and can prevent illness later in life. This resource was created to help schools with determine which types of foods can be offered, based on the facilities available. Follow these guidelines to serve up safe and healthy food to students.
  • Garden, Grow, and Learn: Gardening projects at school can help create a supportive learning environment that allow students to engage with the world around them. This resource can be used to as a reference to promote safe and healthy gardening at school.

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