Packing a food safe lunch

Children are back in school and for many of us that means packing lunches again.   You may not realize that some lunch box choices my be putting your child at risk for foodbourne illness.  Many talk about nutrition in lunches, which I am big proponent of, but often food safety is overlooked or misunderstood.

I have included some guidelines for you to follow which are based on the recommended FDA food code.

First let’s discuss what are typical high risk lunch box foods.  There are foods that are  more at risk for the growth of harmful bacteria and you should avoid or take special care of them.   For these “at risk” cold foods your goal should be to keep at 70° or below for no more than 6 hours and never above 70° for more than 2 hours.  Many children’s lunches are packed in the early morning hours and it can be close to 6 hours before consumption. Hot foods should not be below 145° for more than 4 hours.

Here is a list of the common lunch box “at risk” foods.  This list does not include every food that needs temperature control but rather common foods that need special attention.

  • Lunch Meats
  • Hard boiled eggs that are peeled
  • Cut melons
  • Cut lettuce and tomatoes
  • Left overs that will be served cold. For example, sliced chicken from the night before
  • Soft moist type cheeses that are not commercially wrapped
  • Dairy food like yogurt

Second, here are some tips on protecting the food you do pack and alternative foods that make great choices.

  • Be sure to refrigerate all food that will be packed in lunch box / bag the night before.  Putting warm food next to cold will increase the temperature of the “at risk” foods unnecessarily.  Even chips and other snacks can be refrigerated.
  • Pre-freeze anything you can.  Yogurts can be frozen and will defrost throughout the morning.
  • Use whole, washed fruit instead of cut melons.
  • When slicing or packaging  foods remember to use clean and sanitary surfaces and properly washed hands.
  • Nuts are a great source of protein.  There is a Cocoa Roasted Almond that my daughter loves mixed with raisins.
  • Use pre-portioned unopened cans of Tuna Salad or Chicken salad rather than homemade.  They may be more expensive but we are talking about your child’s health.
  • Raw vegetables with dressing / dip on the side.
  • Look in the club type stores commercial section for items in commercial packaged food that are individually portioned like dressings.
  • Whole wheat crackers
  • Cheese in the individual portions.

I hope this list will help you start thinking about lunches as more than a sandwich and chips.  A good mix of dairy, protein, fruit and carbohydrates will keep your children going strong all day long and keep them safe from the dreaded gastrointestinal discomforts that are commonly associated with excessive bacterial growth on foods.

Please feel free to share your favorite food safe  lunch time ideas! Can’t wait to hear your ideas.

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