It’s that time of year again. Back to school is right around the corner, and many parents are overwhelmed with all of the preparation it takes to get ready for the year. If you pack a lunch for your child, you’re probably conscious of making it nutritious and delicious, but have you thought about its safety?
Foodborne illness is a serious public health issue and can have major consequences well beyond a tummy ache. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), an estimated one in six Americans (or 48 million people) get sick, 128,000 are hospitalized, and 3,000 die of foodborne diseases.
A study, published by the American Academy of Pediatrics’ journal, examined lunches of more than 700 preschool children and found that more than 90 percent were kept at unsafe temperature. Harmful bacteria multiply rapidly in what is known as the temperature “Danger Zone” – between 40 °F and 140 °F (4.4 °C and 60 °C). This means that food that sits out without being refrigerated or stored in an insulated bag with one (or two!) ice packs can quickly reach this zone.
Below are some tips from the Partnership for Food Safety on packing an A+ lunch in the safety department:
- When it’s time to handle food for your child’s lunch, remember to always keep it clean. Wash your hands with warm water and soap for at least 20 seconds before and after handling food. Use hot water and soap to make sure food preparation surfaces and utensils are clean.
- Your child’s lunch could include perishable items (sandwiches, fresh fruit) and shelf-stable items (crackers, packaged pudding). Perishable items need to be kept chilled to reduce risk of foodborne illness.
- Rinse fresh fruits and vegetables under running tap water, including those with skins and rinds that are not eaten. Blot dry with a paper towel before packing them in your child’s lunch.
- You can prepare sandwiches or other perishable items the night before. Store lunch items in the refrigerator until your child is ready to go to school.
- Insulated, soft-sided lunch totes are best for keeping perishable foods chilled. A cold source, such as a small frozen gel pack or frozen juice box, should be packed with perishable foods. Frozen gel packs will keep foods cold until lunchtime, but are not recommended for all-day storage.
- Keep hot foods hot by using an insulated bottle. Fill the bottle with boiling water and let it stand for a few minutes. Empty the bottle and then fill it with piping hot food. Keep the bottle closed until lunchtime.
- Make sure your child knows to throw out all used food packaging and perishable leftovers. Do not reuse plastic bags as they could contaminate other foods leading to foodborne illness.
- Tell your child to use the refrigerator at school, if one is available. If not, make sure he or she keeps the lunch out of direct sunlight and away from radiators, baseboards and other heat sources found in the classroom.
If you educate yourself and follow a few simple tips, you can help prevent a major illness in your family. Making lunch doesn’t have to be stressful. Check out Pinterest for healthy lunch recipes and ideas, and don’t forget a nice note from mom or dad.
Happy school year!
For more information about our Food, Beverage and Nutrition practice, click here.