September 8, 1999
Safe School Lunch Tips Can Help
WASHINGTON, D.C. (SafetyAlerts)
- September is National Food Safety Education Month, which is especially
significant since it also marks the beginning of another school year when millions of
students will pack and carry homemade lunches.
"By following some simple food safety rules,
students can avoid getting sick from a lunch that was not properly handled," cautions
Diane Van, Acting Manager of USDAs nationwide, toll-free Meat and Poultry Hotline.
"Keep hot foods hot and cold foods cold and dont leave any perishable foods at
room temperature for more than two hours. These tips are part of a major public and
private food safety education program, Fight BAC!, to help reduce the
incidence of foodborne illness."
Van advises that to save time, school lunches can
be safely made ahead of time, for example, the night before, and kept cold either in the
refrigerator or the freezer.
"In this way, students and parents have a
head start in keeping perishable sandwiches cold longer. An insulated lunch box is
preferred, but a double-bagged paper bag can also be used. By double-bagging, the cold is
kept inside for a longer time and also the bag will not become soggy."
Van also recommends that a cold source be
included in the insulated lunch box or paper bag. These include a freezer gel widely
available in grocery stores or a frozen juice box. Pack perishables, including deli meats,
poultry or egg sandwiches, between these cold items. Van also suggests that lunch boxes
and bags be kept away from heat sources, such as direct sunlight or room radiators.
Just as important as safely preparing and storing
a school lunch, is to know when to throw something out.
"It comes down to two words: No
leftovers! If you dont finish your sandwich at lunch, throw it out. Dont
try to save it by taking it back home. The freezer gel wont hold all afternoon, not
even in an insulated lunch box," Van says.
In addition to keeping perishable foods cold, hot
foods, such as soup, chili or stew, should be kept piping hot in an insulated bottle. Add
hot water to the insulated bottle, let stand for a few minutes, then empty and fill with
the hot food.
"One final advice to help assure a safe
school lunch is to keep everything clean when making and packing the lunch," Van
cautions. "That not only goes for the food, but also for food preparation surfaces,
hands and utensils. Wash hands before preparing or eating food. And keep the family pet
away from kitchen counters."
For more information on packing safe lunches for
school (and work, too!) call the toll-free Meat and Poultry Hotline at 1-800-535-4555. In
the Washington, DC area, the number is 202-720-3333. The Hotline is open Monday through
Friday from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., Eastern Time, year-round. Also, a selection of timely food
safety recordings are available 24 hours a day, every day, by using a touch-tone phone and
the user-friendly menu, which prompts callers.
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