safefood has turned to a big, friendly, furry monster to launch the latest phase of their Handwashing programme, which aims to help make learning about good handwashing habits fun for under 5s and help keep bacteria like E.coli from spreading.

Person-to-person spread remains one of the most common transmission routes for E.coli infections. Between 2010-2016, there have been 595 reported cases of E. coli in Northern Ireland, with 1 in 5 cases affecting children aged 0-4.

E.coli can make children very sick and infections can happen when children don’t wash their hands properly especially after using the toilet, playing outside or before eating.

“Rufus the Handwashing Hero” is the star of a new free educational resource pack featuring a storybook, sink poster and sticker set.  Developed by safefood with the support of Early Years – the Organisation for Young Children, the pack has been arriving in more than 350 childcare providers across Northern Ireland since last week.

Speaking today, Dr Linda Gordon, Chief Specialist in Food Science, safefood said “With any outbreaks of harmful bacteria like E.coli, those aged under five are some of the most vulnerable because their immune systems just aren’t fully developed. Because children spend lots of time together in crèches, it’s important to protect them from the spread of harmful bacteria. As we know, person-to-person spread remains one of the most common transmission routes for E.coli infections. Teaching young kids how but also when to wash their hands and reinforcing that behaviour in a fun, engaging way is a great way to help protect them.”

Ray Dolan, Chief Executive, safefood continued: “Handwashing is one of the most important life skills we can teach children from a young age. ‘Rufus’ is a fun, friendly character with a big personality that we’ve created to teach kids about handwashing. We are providing childcare and education professionals with our storybook, catchy song and our easy-to-remember five steps of handwashing – Wet; Soap; Rub; Rinse and Dry as part of our pre-school packOur pack contains extra reusable posters for home, so children can bring these lessons home and wash their hands with Rufus and their parents too.

“We know from our own research that the vast majority of childcare professionals are aware of the risks of harmful bacteria like E.coli. Handwashing is one of the best ways to stay safe, reduce the chances of spreading this bacteria and prevent food-poisoning. Using this great resource will help them maintain this high level of awareness while teaching this lifelong skill to the children in their care.”

Pauline Walmsly, Chief Executive, Early Years – the Organisation for Young Children added: “We’re delighted to have worked with safefood in the development of this fun resource. The sink posters and stickers help with learning and reinforcing good handwashing habits and the storybook helps extend this valuable lesson across the crèche. As childcare professionals, we play a key role in teaching these life skills and reducing the risk of harmful bacteria like E.coli spreading among the children in our care”.

For more information on the campaign and resources for childcare providers, visit www.safefood.eu

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