I remember the days of watching my children scramble to get ready for school in the mornings. Like many parents, the rush to make the bus or get to school by the first bell included packing a healthy lunch. Years later, the challenge became preparing my daughters for college and dorm living with a supply of convenience foods like noodles and fruit cups.
Many of us realize that food safety is a big part of keeping our children safe and healthy. Lunches and convenience snacks can sometimes go unrefrigerated for long periods of time giving bacteria a chance to grow and multiply. In just two hours, microorganisms can multiply to dangerous levels, which can cause foodborne illness.
From packed lunches for elementary school to snacks on the go for university students racing to class, how do we keep our food safe?
To make sure lunches, snacks and all meals are safe, you should follow the USDA’s four steps to food safety: Clean – Separate – Cook – and Chill. Here are a few tips to get you started:
If the lunch/snack contains perishable food items like luncheon meats, eggs, cheese or yogurt, make sure to pack it with two cold sources. Harmful bacteria multiply rapidly so perishable food transported without an ice source won't stay safe long.
If packing a hot lunch, like soup, 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.
If packing a lunch the night before, leave it in the refrigerator overnight. The meal will stay cold longer because everything will be refrigerator temperature when it is placed in the lunchbox.
Prep, Eating and Disposal
Today’s packaging technology provides a high degree of protection and extended expiration dates, but you should also pay attention to the expiration dates and cooking instructions on packaging and follow them closely.
Finally, use common sense. If any food shows signs of spoilage such as discoloration, presence of mold, or bad odors, toss it out!
There are many ways to protect the food we eat, and our family members, and it starts with you. By making small changes in how we manage and think about food safety, we can reduce health and food safety risks and improve food waste behavior.