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Food Safety in Schools

When food is made available at schools, the school is considered a food premise 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.


The owner/operator of a food premise 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 protected].

  • The school board is the “owner” of all food premises within school board buildings.
  • The “operator” for each food premise varies: Third party food service providers are considered their own separate food premise 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 premise and must comply with the Ontario Food Premises Regulation. A school operates as:

  • A regular food premise when food or milk is provided on an on-going basis. This can include, but is not limited to: food cafeteria services, high school hospitality programs, student nutrition programs (SNPs), and tuck shops.
  • A temporary food premise (open to the public) any time 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.
  • 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.

**Food Premises Regulation does not apply 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. 

Scenario 1: Are schools allowed to offer diversity, equity and inclusion activities where families prepare food at home and bring it in to the school or classroom for sharing?

Answer: Yes, this is allowed because it is a private celebration within the school or classroom with invited guests/students. 

Schools that prepare and serve low risk foods* and/or serve prepackaged food items are exempt from having designated hand washing stations, commercial dishwashing equipment and are not required to have a certified food handler onsite at all times.

Examples of low risk foods:

  • Whole fruit and vegetables (e.g. apples, pears, bananas, oranges, baby carrots, grape tomatoes)
  • Vegetables and fruit cut into pieces and individually packaged
  • Single serve yogurt cups and tubes
  • Cheese strings
  • Granola or cereal bar (with less than 8g sugar/no chocolate)
  • Individually packaged or pre-portioned cold cereal (with less than 8g sugar, with whole grain, whole wheat, or bran as the first ingredient)
  • Sliced bagel, toast, English muffin
  • Pre-boiled, peeled, pre-packaged hard boiled eggs

 More examples can be found in this Student Nutrition Program Supplemental Guide.


Preparing and serving low risk foods:

When preparing and serving low risk foods, it is important to continue following food safety best practices to protect individuals from foodborne illness and maintain health and well-being:

  • Handwashing is required prior to handling food. Handwashing can be done at any available sink provided it is supplied with liquid soap and paper towel or air dryer.
  • Cleaning and sanitizing dishes and utensils after each use is required by using a domestic dishwasher, two-sink or three sink methods. If the proper number of sinks is not available, substituting the second or third sink may be an option. Speak with a public health inspector to discuss further.
  • It is recommended that an internal food safety training program, or procedures are developed to ensure that all staff and volunteers are provided with food safety knowledge
Schools that prepare and serve foods that are higher risk for foodborne illness continue to be subject to all aspects of the Ontario Food Premises Regulations.

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.

Scenario 2: What kind of residential dishwasher is appropriate for my school? 

Answer: If the school is using a residential dishwasher no more than twice a day, then a NSF/ANSI Standard 184 Certified residential dishwasher is allowed. Contact a public health inspector through Health Connection for approval. 

Scenario 3: Our school would like to make grilled cheese sandwiches and cooked eggs for the Student Nutrition Program.  What facilities do we need?

Answer: This depends on whether disposable or multi-use dishes are used.   

If disposable dishes are used, a separate hand washing sink and a 2-compartment sink for dishwashing is required. 

If multi-use dishes (cups, plates, cutlery) are used, a separate hand washing sink and a 3-compartment sink for dishwashing is required. As noted above, an NSF residential dishwasher can be used in both scenarios instead of the dishwashing sinks. 

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.

One Certified Food Handler is required onsite during the hours of operation, for all schools operating food cafeteria services, high school hospitality programs, SNP’s serving high risk foods and/or special events (open to the public).Schools  that prepare and serve low risk foods* and/or serve prepackaged food items do not need a certified food handler onsite.

To become a Certified Food Handler, an Ontario Ministry of Health and Long-Term Care approved Food Handler Certification training course must be completed (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. 

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 through Health Connection early in your planning stages to find out if you need one.

Scenario 4: Our school is having an event where food will be prepared on site (BBQ, turkey dinner, baked goods).  This event is open to students, staff, parents/guardians (by invitation) only. Do we need a special event permit?

Answer: No, the school will not need a special event permit. However safe food handling practices apply.

Scenario 5: The same circumstances as Scenario 4, however the event would be open to the general public.

Answer: A special event permit is required because the event is open to the public.

Scenario 6: We purchase prepared foods from a local restaurant and serve to staff, students and parents/guardians, and the general public.

Answer: A special event permit is required because the event is open to the public

The health unit has a responsibility to inspect all food premises in Simcoe County and the District of Muskoka. All schools operating as food cafeteria services, high school hospitality programs, and Student Nutrition Programs serving high risk foods will be inspected 1-3 times calendar year. 

During the first annual inspection, 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 the time of inspection. Each premise will receive a certificate of inspection that can 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.

  • Student Nutrition Program Supplemental Guidance: Being well nourished is important for student learning, well-being, and growth and development. This resource was created to help schools determine which types of foods can be offered, based on the equipment available and how food will be prepared. Follow these guidelines to serve up safe and nutritious food to students.
  • Ministry of Community and Social Services Student Nutrition Program Guidelines 2018: The Program Guidelines provide details about ministry requirements for provincial Student Nutrition Program funding and helpful information that assists Lead Agencies in meeting their contract requirements with the Ministry of Community and Social Services for the SNP.
  • 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 educational gardening opportunities at school.

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