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Packing a Safe School Lunch for Your Kids & Tips for Safe Cafeteria Lunches
Get your kids ready for the new school year by educating them on food safety and foodborne illnesses
By: STOP Foodborne Illness
For parents who pack lunches for their kiddos, STOP has tips for keeping harmful pathogens out of the lunch box. Teachers can take action as well by adding food safety to their curriculum. Use STOP's Curriculum Materials and Education Resources for Teachers to educate your students and make a difference.
For packing your child's lunch to prevent foodborne illness, STOP suggests:
• Keep in mind the bacteria danger zone. Bacteria grow rapidly in the temperature "danger zone" of 40-140° F.
• Wash your hands. When preparing lunches, wash your hands thoroughly and keep all surfaces you're working on clean. Additionally, stress how important it is for your kids to wash their hands before and after they eat. Hand-washing with soap and water is best, but wet wipes or hand sanitizer will work in a pinch.
• Use an insulated lunch box. This helps keep cold foods cold and hot foods hot until it's time to eat them, helping keep your child's food out of the bacteria "danger zone."
• Use ice packs. These inexpensive items are vital for keeping cold foods cold.
• Use an insulated thermos to keep hot foods, like soups, chili, or mac and cheese, hot.
• Freeze drinks before packing. Frozen milk, juice boxes, and water bottles will help keep the drinks cold. Frozen items will melt during morning classes and be ready for drinking at lunch.
• Pack hot foods while hot. Don't wait for hot foods to cool down before packing. Instead, pour hot foods like soups immediately into an insulated thermos. You can also preheat your thermos by filling it with boiling water, letting it sit for a few minutes, pouring out the water, and then adding your hot food.
• Wash and separate fresh fruits/veggies. STOP recommends washing produce thoroughly before packing in plastic containers to keep them away from other foods. After washing, dry produce with a clean cloth towel or paper towel to further reduce bacteria that may be present on the surface.
• Use individual snack packs. Portions packed from larger bags of items like pretzels, chips, and cookies means potential exposure to bacteria from many hands that have been in and out of the bag. To help prevent the spread of germs, STOP recommends using individual-sized servings.
• Add room-temperature-
• Avoid putting food on tables. Once kids are in the cafeteria, they shouldn't put their food on the table. Pack a paper towel or some wax paper they can use instead.
• Explain the 5-second myth. Be sure your child knows that the "5-second rule" is a myth. Any food that touches the floor needs to be thrown away.
• Toss perishable food. To avoid foodborne illness, let your child know it is okay to throw away perishables like meat, poultry or egg sandwiches, if not eaten at lunchtime. Unopened, room-temperature-
• Make sure lunch boxes are regularly cleaned and sanitized. We recommend you clean your child's box each evening before packing the next day's lunch.
Food Safety Tips for School Cafeteria Lunches
Children who eat their lunch through the National School Lunch Program (NSLP), STOP Foodborne Illness believes it is imperative to teach them ways they can help prevent foodborne illness at lunchtime, too.
Though the U.S. Department of Agriculture states they are "committed to a comprehensive, coordinated approach to food safety for the NSLP," the sad reality is that STOP has recounted numerous stories shared by parents of children who have become gravely ill from lunches served at schools.
STOP Foodborne Illness urges you to do a couple of things:
First, talk with your kids about this issue and share food safety tips they need to use, which include:
• Washing their hands. Your child should wash his/her hands before and after they eat.
• Avoiding putting food on tables. Keep it on the plate, or put a napkin down.
• Checking for undercooked food. For instance, if hamburger meat looks raw/pink, your child shouldn't eat it. Hot foods that are cold in the middle should not be eaten.
• Checking for food that looks spoiled. Your child shouldn't eat vegetables or fruits that are wilting, have mold, or look discolored. Help your child learn more with these tips.
• Reporting unsanitary conditions. Examples include: Cafeteria workers not wearing gloves or hairnets, surfaces or equipment that are dirty, yellowish water flowing from a drinking fountain, and bugs or rodents roaming around. If your child sees these kinds of unacceptable conditions, they should report it to a school authority ASAP.
• Inspect the cafeteria yourself. STOP Foodborne Illness urges every parent to make a personal visit to their child's school and take a good look around the kitchen and cafeteria. Anything that looks like a possible food safety hazard should be reported to school authorities.
STOP Foodborne Illness is a national, nonprofit, public health organization dedicated to preventing illness and death from foodborne pathogens by advocating for sound public policies, building public awareness and assisting those impacted by foodborne illness. For more food safety tips please visit www.stopfoodborneillness.org/
For questions and personal assistance, please contact STOP Foodborne Illness' Community Coordinator, Stanley Rutledge, at firstname.lastname@example.org or 773-269-6555 x7.