School is back in session, and some students still carry their lunch. When packing your child’s lunch, always keep food safety in mind. Your child’s lunch will probably be left at room temperature for several hours. This can put your child at risk for food-borne illness. Children typically have a higher risk of food-borne illness, as their immune systems are not sufficiently developed to resist the bacteria that can grow on foods.
According to the USDA, foods at temperatures between 40 and 140 degrees are in the “danger zone” and can allow bacteria to double in number in as little as 20 minutes. To help prevent bacteria and food-borne illness, follow these tips:
- Use an insulated lunch box for perishable food.
- If a refrigerator is available for your child to use, ask him or her to place the lunch in the refrigerator as soon as they arrive at school.
- Use cold packs to cool perishable items such as lunch meats, eggs, cheese, milk and yogurt.
- You can also freeze water or juice and use that to keep perishables cold, and the liquids should thaw by lunch time.
- Use a thermos or other insulated container to keep hot lunches at a warm temperature.
- Leave lunches in the refrigerator overnight if packing them the night before.
- Put individually packaged disposable wipes in the lunch box and remind children to use them before and after eating. Also, reinforce the importance of hand-washing before meals.
- Discard all used lunch packaging and bags, and clean lunch boxes before use.
- Leftover food also should be discarded.
Leaving leftover perishables from lunch in the lunch box means they’ll probably be in the temperature danger zone for a while and could become a safety risk. Talk to your child about what foods can be safely kept to eat later.
For more information contact Patrice Dunagin, Smith County FCS agent for Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service, at 903-590-2980.