A new school year is beginning, which means new teachers, new surroundings, a bunch of homework, and the never-ending dilemma of how to make a healthy and safe school lunch.
There are many challenges to starting a new school year. Preparing a safe lunch should not be one of them. Many students buy lunches to avoid a foodborne illness, which is not necessary.
Simple steps like washing your hands and keeping food out of the temperature danger zone can stop spread the spread of bacteria. Just paying attention can keep students safe from a foodborne illness.
Soap, water, and friction is all that is required in handwashing. This practice is the first and easiest step to avoid food-related illness. The USDA revealed that 97 percent of the times foodborne sickness came from hands not washed or improperly washed. Just jabbing fingers beneath running water does not remove all of the harmful bacteria.
Bacteria can live on surfaces for up to 32 hours. It is easy to spread germs to bread and sandwich stuffings. Poor hand hygiene causes cross-contamination to refrigerator handles, ready to eat foods, and the lunchbox.
Make sure the lunchbox or bag is clean before packing. Remind students to visit the restroom before eating to wash their hand with soap or slip a moist towelettes into the lunch bag.
Use an insulated bag or cooler and at least two cold sources. Freezer packs or frozen yogurt or juice boxes keep perishables like luncheon meats, eggs, cheese or yogurt below 40 degrees until lunch time.
When packing a hot lunch, use an insulated container to keep it hot. Fill the container with boiling water, let stand for a few minutes, empty and then put in the piping hot food. Tell students to keep the container closed until lunchtime to keep the food above 140 degrees.
Food sharing and bartering is a lunchroom activity that is hard to avoid. Remind students that not everyone packs a lunch the same; be careful of food from others.
A foodborne illness can occur without diligent food packing. Parents go out of their way to keep their students safe; one of the most dangerous hazards can originate from their own kitchen.
Don’t just wash hands, scrub them for at least 10 to 15 seconds under running warm water before and after handling food. Dry on a fresh towel or paper towel. Rinse raw fruits and vegetables before eating, cutting or cooking.
At room temperature or in a school locker, bacteria in food can double every 20 minutes. Consumers can learn more about key food safety practices at Foodsafety.gov, and by liking Facebook.com/FoodSafety.gov.
Consumers with questions about food safety can call the USDA Meat and Poultry Hotline at 1-888-MPHotline (1-888-674-6854) or chat live with a food safety specialist at AskKaren.gov, available from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. eastern time, Monday through Friday, in English or Spanish.
Bobbie Randall is a certified diabetes educator, registered, licensed dietitian. She supervises a Diabetes Self-Management Training Program at Dunlap Community Hospital, Orrville, Ohio. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.