Packing Bag Lunches Safely
Pack Nonperishable Foods
The USDA now recommends that half of a meal be fruits and vegetables, which is convenient because most produce does not spoil at room temperature. Consider packing more foods that are nonperishable and don’t require refrigeration like whole apples, cherry tomatoes, grapes or carrot sticks.
Keep Cold Foods Cold and Hot Foods Hot
If you do pack perishable foods such as luncheon meats or prepackaged cheese & crackers, include a frozen gel pack or a frozen juice carton with the food in an insulated lunch bag or box.
If you’re packing hot foods such as soups or stews, re-heat the hot food on the stove to at least 165 F. To help keep it hot until lunch, pre-heat a thermos with hot water, let it stand for a minute or two, empty the thermos, then fill it with the hot food and close it quickly.
Throw Out the Leftovers
Pack only the amount of perishable food that your child can eat at lunch and advise them to throw out any leftovers.
Additionally, don’t reuse packaging materials such as paper or plastic bags, aluminum foil, etc. as bacteria can grow on these wrappings, contaminate other foods and cause foodborne illness. Have your child discard all used food packaging and paper bags after lunch. Wash lunchboxes, thermoses and reusable food storage containers daily with soap and hot water.
Minimize The Time Food Spends At Room Temperature
Prepare lunches the night before and store them in the refrigerator overnight to help keep food cold longer the next day.
Keep it Clean
According to a NSF International germ study, the kitchen contains more germs than any other place in the home – including staph and coliform bacteria. Avoid introducing bacteria into a lunch when packing it by regularly cleaning and sanitizing your kitchen counter, dish sponge and kitchen sink.
Perform a lunchbox safety test
If you plan to send a hot or cold lunch to school with your child, perform a lunchbox safety test to make sure the food will stay safe. Pack and store a lunch exactly the way you would if your child was off to school. At the designated lunchtime, check the temperature of the foods with a food thermometer. Cold foods should be less than 40 F, while hot foods need to be above 140 F.
Don’t forget to always wash your hands with soap and warm water for at least 20 seconds before preparing any meal and remind your child to do the same before he/she sits down for lunch. Handwashing is one of the best ways kids and parents can protect health and stop the spread of germs.
These tips were from the NSF International – a nonprofit organization that is committed to protecting public health and safety by developing standards and certifying products against those standards.
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