Keeping students' lunches safe

By: Sara Humphrey Email
By: Sara Humphrey Email

ARDMORE, OK - Some schools have already started and for others, back to school is just around the corner. Kristi Combes, Fitness and Nutrition Coordinator at the Carter County Health Department, said keeping the bacteria out of packed lunches is important.

Combes said with the heat we are seeing, food tends to spoil easier which brings bacteria to the food. This can cause the students to get sick. Packing non-perishable items, like trail mix or fruit cups, can decrease the risk of illness.

If you do pack meats or dairy products, make sure your student stores their lunch box in a cool place to make sure those cold foods stay cold, Combes said.

"If something needs to be refrigerated, you want to keep cold foods cold, make sure you are going to use an insulated lunch box and use the freezer gel packs," Combes said. "Or if you are going to do hot foods like chili or soup or stew, you need to put it in a thermos."

Combes said cold items need to stay under forty degrees, hot items over one-hundred and forty degrees.

"Usually those items don't last much longer than lunch time, so make sure you throw away whatever is left over if they come home with things," Combes said. "

Keeping the not only the food bacteria free, clean counter tops, utensils and hands are also important, Combes said.

Keep food safety in mind and follow these basic precautions to prevent illness:

• Keep everything clean when packing the lunch. Use hot, soapy water to clean hands, clean preparation surfaces, and clean utensils. Wash your hands before you prepare or eat food. Wash insulated lunch bags with warm soapy water after each use.

• Use an insulated lunch box to help keep foods cold. Insulated, soft-sided lunch totes are best for keeping perishable foods chilled. You can also use a thermos to keep milk or juice cold until lunchtime. Perishable foods should not be out of refrigeration for more than two hours

• Use freezer gel packs that are widely available in stores. If you cannot get freezer gel packs, freeze a juice box or plastic water bottle overnight and put that into your lunch box next to your sandwich.

• Keep your lunch in the coolest place possible! If there is a refrigerator at school, put your lunch in there. If not keep it out of the sun and away from the heat.

• Pack shelf-stable foods, especially if you have a brown paper
bag lunch. These food items include fresh fruits and vegetables, crackers, peanut butter sandwiches, canned meats, shelf-stable cheeses, packaged pudding, and canned fruits and juices.

• Rinse fresh fruits and vegetables under running tap water, including those with skins and rinds that are not eaten. Blot dry with a paper towel before packing them in your child's lunch.

• Use a thermos to keep soup, chili and stew hot. Use an insulated bottle stored in an insulated lunch box. Fill the bottle with boiling water, let stand for a few minutes, empty, and then put in the piping hot food. Keep the insulated bottle closed until lunch to keep the food hot.

• Make sure kids wash their hands before eating lunch. Encourage at least 20 seconds– about the time it takes to sing two choruses of the "Happy Birthday" song – of hand washing in warm soapy water. Include a moist towelette or hand sanitizer in your child's lunch box.

• Discard perishable leftovers after lunch. Pack non-perishable
food items for an afternoon snack. Discard all used food packaging since bacteria can grow on plastic bags, aluminum foil, and paper. If you’re packing your child’s lunch with reusable bags, be sure to wash them daily with soap and hot water.

Find more information about food safety visit www.health.ok.gov.


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