This is the second article in our feature on school lunch–just in time for the new year!
As the school year approaches, the health and safety of your child, while at school, is at the forefront of your mind. In order to keep a child’s mind keen and his or her body healthy and active, safe and proper nutrition is key. Bringing lunch from home is a great way to do this, as you control which foods are presented to your child. Here are a few tips on packing the perfect lunch box and keeping the food packed in a safe way.
1. Clean the lunchbox before and after use. After your child has picked out the perfect lunch box with matching food containers, thoroughly clean the lunch box, food, and drink containers properly with warm water and soap. A good thorough cleaning will not only get rid of that all-too-familiar lunch box smell, but it will also keep foodborne pathogens at bay and away from your child’s immune system. If dish duty cuts into your time, use a clean paper bag and clean plastic bags to store lunches.
2. Consider perishable and non-perishable food items. A school lunch box will have a good mixture of perishable and non-perishable food items. Some popular favorites that are easy to store are known as non-perishable food items. These are items that can be kept at room temperature for more than a few hours without danger of rapid bacterial growth. Perishable food items include cold foods that must stay cold or hot foods that should be kept hot for the hours between morning and lunch time, or they run the risk of foodborne illnesses. Some of these perishable food items include milk and other dairy products, sandwich or deli meats.
3. Control temperature and stay out of the “Danger Zone.” To ensure the safety and preservation of the food packed, be sure to keep foods at their appropriate temperatures, and far away from the “danger zone.” The USDA explains, “Harmful bacteria multiply rapidly in the “Danger Zone”–the temperatures between 40 and 140 degrees F. So perishable food transported without an ice source won’t stay safe long.” Some ideas to keeping food away from the “Danger Zone” is packing non-perishable food items, cold gel packs, or even frozen juice boxes to keep foods cold until they can be eaten at lunch. Opting to buy milk straight out of the school’s refrigerator is another safe option. If you have trouble differentiating between perishable and non-perishable food items, pack a cold pack just in case.
4. Remind your child to clean his or her hands. Before your child eats their lunch, remind them of proper hygiene. Washing their hands and using hand sanitizer before they eat can cut down on the dangers of foodborne illness. Pack a small container of hand sanitizer and a little reminder note to wash their hands with soap before eating. Teaching them that they can get sick from germs if they don’t wash their hands will keep them informed and encourage proper hand washing habits.
5. Dispose of unsafe food items to protect your child from foodborne illness. When the lunchbox comes back home with the child after a long and hard day at school, throw away all perishable food items that were not consumed, like the half eaten and browning banana and the rest of that crumbling cheese stick. These items will not have kept all day in a lunchbox. All plastic and paper products should also be thrown away after one use. As children are among those highly susceptible to foodborne illness, take extra precautions when preparing and storing their lunchboxes.