Keeping packed school lunches safe

September 20, 2011

Nancy Donley with STOP Foodborne Illness has some advice that could help keep your child from becoming sick.

    STOP's Guidelines for Packing Safe School Lunches
  • Insulate. Insulated lunch bags and boxes are one of the best ways to keep foods from entering the bacteria "danger zone" (between 40 and 140 degrees Fahrenheit).
  • Freeze drinks before packing. Frozen juice boxes or water bottles help keep the lunches cold and are drinkable by lunchtime. A reusable frozen ice pack works just as well.
  • Pack hot foods while still hot. Don't wait for hot foods to cool down before packing; this puts them in the temperature "danger zone" where bacteria multiply. Instead, when packing soup, chili or stew, use an insulated thermos and fill it up while food is still hot, or simmering. You also can preheat your thermos by filling it with boiling water, let sit for a few minutes before pouring out the water and then adding your hot food.
  • Include room-temperature-safe foods. Some foods don't need to be refrigerated to be eaten safely at lunchtime. Peanut butter, jelly, cookies, crackers, chips, dried fruits and whole fruits (apples, bananas, and oranges) can be eaten safely at room temperature. If opened right at lunchtime, canned meats and fish are safe at room temperature, too.
  • Wash hands before preparing food and eating. One of the best safety lessons parents can teach their children is the habit of washing hands before and after meals and snacks. Make sure both parents and children use warm water and soap, and rub hands together vigorously for 20 seconds, or enough time to sing the Happy Birthday song twice. If water isn't available before and after lunchtime, hand sanitizer or moist hand towelettes are the next-best alternative.
  • Throw out leftovers. It's tempting to save leftover food children bring home, but remember that it's been sitting out for up to eight hours, so toss it to be safe. The exception is unopened, room-temperature-safe foods.

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About Nancy Donley:

Donley is recognized as a leading proponent of improvement in both government and private food safety efforts since the death of her six-year old son Alex in 1993 from consumption of E. coli O157:H7-contaminated ground beef. Alex was her and her husband Tom's, only child. Nancy works in a volunteer capacity for STOP Foodborne Illness and has served as its president for over 10 years. She has done extensive advocacy work on behalf of the organization and has been featured in numerous magazine articles, newspaper articles and television interviews in efforts to increase awareness about the risks of foodborne illness. Nancy serves on the United States Department of Agriculture's National Advisory Committee on Meat and Poultry Inspection. She has received numerous awards for her advocacy efforts. She has a B.S. degree in marketing from DePaul University and resides in Chicago.

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