Food Safety Information
Perishable food items should not be left out of the refrigerator for more than two hours (in weather above 90 degrees, the time is reduced to one hour), however 75% of children do not have access to a refrigerator at school. So what can parents do to prevent food borne illness?
- Prevent cross-contamination. According to the American Dietetic Association, 73% of parents prepare their child’s lunch in the morning. In the haste of the morning scramble it is easy to neglect the maintenance of a clean work surface. Keep disinfecting surface wipes at hand for quick clean ups before moving on to other foods; or use different cutting surfaces for different jobs.
- Don’t forget to clean the lunch box. If you are using a reusable lunch box or bag, remember to wipe it out every day. You can even spray it with a little disinfectant each night and let it dry before morning. If it is machine washable, try to get in the washing machine at least once per week to get the really yucky stuff off.
- Make sure it’s cold. Keep all lunchbox items in the refrigerator or freezer until you are ready to pack up the lunchboxes. The colder the items start out, the colder they will stay. Use reusable freezer packs to keep food colder longer in their lunch boxes.
- Use shelf stable (non-perishable) foods such as trail mix, granola bars, bagels, carrot and celery sticks, whole fruit, single-serve applesauce, cans of tuna, and peanut butter when you feel there is no way to keep things cold.
- Leave the leftovers. Some parenting experts say you should make your child bring home their leftover lunch so that you can monitor what they have or have not eaten, however many children save some of their lunch to eat later in the day. Encourage your child to throw out their leftovers so that they are not left to spoil in their lunchbox. If your child is among the many that need an afternoon snack before the end of the school day or for the journey home from school, pack a separate snack for that purpose. Discourage children from eating their leftover lunch later in the day.
- Wash hands. In many elementary schools, most teachers do not allow for time nor do they encourage children to wash up before going to lunch. 60% of school aged children report that they do not wash their hands before eating snack or lunch. The burden is on you and your child to enforce good hygiene. If your child doesn’t get the time to wash his or her hands before lunch, supply a moist towelette in each day’s lunch bag.
- Not all fruits are created equally. You should always wash and dry ready to eat fruits like apples and grapes, but it is also a good idea to wash the outside of other fruits as well so that bacteria on their skins are not transferred to other foods. Also you should always keep cut fruits cool so they don’t spoil, like melons, mangos and kiwi.
- Ask your school to help: initiate hand washing policies; provide microwave ovens to re-heat lunch items; provide a hot water station for items like dried pasta dishes, soups and chilies; initiate and encourage proper disposal of leftover foods and packing up of lunch boxes after children eat.
Tips to keeping it safe:
- Freeze juice boxes and milk boxes and use them as icepacks in your child’s lunchbox.
- Make sandwiches on frozen bread.
- Even if it doesn’t have to be cold, chill it down before packing it with other cold items.
- Pack cold items with other cold items; pack items that are hot or at room temperature in a separate bag or compartment.
- If it can be frozen, freeze it. Yogurts, puddings, apple sauce, etc., freeze snack items before putting them in the lunchbox and they will defrost by snack or lunch time and be safe to eat. They will also help keep other items cold in the process.
- Prepare insulate food containers: For food containers destined for hot food items, pour boiling water into the container and let it sit for 2-5 minutes to get really hot. Then add piping hot food and seal immediately. For food container destined for cold food items, chill the container in the refrigerator overnight. Check the manufacturer’s instructions, some containers even allow you to freeze them first.