Safe food handling in school canteens is an important practice to protect the students from food borne illnesses. The main purpose of this study was to present an overview of food safety knowledge and hygienic practices in selected schools in Al Ain city in the Emirate of Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates. The study consisted of three parts. The first part tackled students’ and teachers’ behavior during breakfast snack in addition to a quick assessment of premises from a food safety point of view. The second part focused on food safety knowledge and practices among students and teachers while the third part dealt with assessment of microbiological contamination of food contact surfaces and hands of students, teachers and food handlers. Results showed that only four school out of eight (50%) keep foods at 5°C or below. With respect to cleanliness of refrigerators, six out of eight schools visited (75%) do not clean their refrigerators enough. For personal hygiene, it was observed that 37.5% of respondents do not wash their hands properly after using toilet. This behavior may expose students to bacterial food poisoning such as salmonella and staphylococcus, which result into vomiting and severe abdominal pain. For the second part, results showed that 60.3% of respondents eat their meal in school playground. Utilization of playground for eating and physical activity simultaneously may expose the area to more dust, which serves as a potential source of contamination. For the microbiological evaluation of surfaces and hands of students and food handlers, the study revealed that although the general microbiological conditions were normal, the presence of Escherichia coli and Staphylococcus aureus on hands of students, food handlers and even teachers was worrying. In survey questionnaire to assess food safety knowledge, 87% of the participants expressed their appreciation of the importance of food safety.
Key words: Food Safety, personal hygiene, Escherichia coli, Staphylococcus aureus.
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