September is here, and with it comes a new morning routine. A lot of kids are heading back to school this week, so instead of packing the car to go to the pool or the beach, it’s time to pack lunches. Coincidentally, September is also Food Safety Education Month (be sure to check out our website for upcoming events). This is a great reminder that it’s important to prepare and store those school lunches safely. Food safety may not be on the radar for most kids (they’ve already got schoolwork and growing up to worry about), but simply practicing safe cooking and food preparation can go a long way in helping your kids avoid foodborne illness. Busy parents will be glad to know that practicing proper food safety is as easy as “clean, separate, cook and chill”: Clean
- Be sure to thoroughly wash all fruits and vegetables under running tap water, then blot dry with a paper towel before adding them to the lunch bag. Don’t forget to also wash any produce with an inedible peel or rind such as bananas and avocados. Sly bacteria from the outer peel can be transferred to your child’s hands and then onto the edible part of the fruit.
- Remind your kids to throw out all perishable leftovers and disposable food packaging.
- To avoid cross-contamination, never reuse food packaging.
- Use insulated bottles to keep hot food out of the temperature “danger zone.” Carefully pour boiling water into an insulated bottle, then empty the bottle and fill it with hot food. Leave the lid on the bottle until it’s time for lunch.
- When making lunches using cooked meats (such as chicken salad), be sure to thoroughly cook all poultry, eggs and meat. Use a thermometer to check the internal temperature of meat.
- If you prepare lunch the night before, keep it cool in the fridge overnight.
- Choose an insulated lunch bag and use freezable gel packs to keep food cool until lunchtime. These products are usually quite inexpensive, and this small investment can go a long way in helping to prevent foodborne illness.
- Encourage your child to store his/her lunch in a refrigerator (if available).
Print out these tips so that both you and your kids have a reminder to clean, separate, cook and chill. You can also visit the “Fight BAC!” website for more free educational materials on food safety. Follow these simple steps, and your school year will be off to a healthy and safe start! For additional resources or information, check out foodinsight.org. “Back to School? Keep Kid’s Lunches Clean, Cooked and Cool,” by Liz Sanders, MPH, student at UNC-Chapel Hill and IFIC Intern, first appeared on the International Food Information Council Foundation’s Food Insight Blog on Aug. 23, 2013. Republished with permission.