Kids are returning to school and many are taking packed lunched with them. According to STOP Foodborne Illness — a national nonprofit public health organization dedicated to the prevention of illness and death — you should follow these suggestions for packing your children’s lunches to prevent foodborne illnesses:
- Keep in mind the bacteria danger zone. Bacteria grow rapidly in the zone of 40-140 degrees Farenheit.
- Wash your hands. When preparing lunches, STOP Foodborne Illness stresses the importance of washing your hands thoroughly and keeping all surfaces clean.
- Use an insulated lunch box. Whether hard-sided or soft, this helps keep your child’s food out of the “danger zone.”
- Use ice packs. This is another inexpensive “must have” item, according to STOP Foodborne Illness, that is vital for keeping cold foods cold.
- Use an insulated thermos.
- Freeze drinks before packing. Frozen milk, juice boxes and water bottles keep the drinks cold, along with other cold foods you’ve packed. Frozen items put in the lunch box will be drinkable by lunch time.
- Pack hot foods while hot. Don’t wait for hot foods to cool down before pouring into an insulated thermos. Preheat your thermos by filling it with boiling water and letting it sit for a few minutes, then pour out the water and add your hot food.
- Wash and separate fresh fruits and veggies.
- Use individual snack packs.
- Add room-temperature-safe foods.
Talk with your children about things they should do at school to prevent foodborne illnesses:
- Encourage them to wash their hands before and after eating.
- Avoid putting food on tables. Pack a paper towel or some wax paper that your children can use to put on the table and then place their food on it.
- Explain the 5-second myth. Be sure your children know the real “5 second rule,” that any food that touches the floor for any amount of time needs to be thrown away.
- Toss perishable food. To avoid foodborne illnesses, tell your children to throw away perishables like meat, poultry or egg sandwiches if not eaten.
- Make sure lunch boxes are regularly cleaned and sanitized.
Teach them these Food Safety Tips for School Cafeteria Lunches:
- Checking for undercooked food. For instance, if hamburger meat looks bloody, they should not eat it, or any hot food that is cold.
- Checking for food that looks spoiled. Your child shouldn’t eat vegetables that are wilting, have mold or look discolored.
- Reporting unsanitary conditions. Examples include: cafeteria workers without hairnets, surfaces or equipment that are dirty, yellowish water flowing from a water fountain, and bugs or rodents roaming around. If your child sees these kind of conditions, they should report it to a school authority immediately.
- Inspect the cafeteria yourself. STOP Foodborne Illness urges parents to make a personal visit to their children’s school and take a good look around the kitchen. Anything that looks like a possible food safety hazard should be reported to authorities.