Food Safety: Fail To Prepare, Prepare To Fail

Staff Reports

Parents, you will probably find yourself doing back-to-school shopping with the kids returning to school. Include food safety items on your next shopping trip to keep your child safe from foodborne illnesses.

“Every day, parents focus on the health and safety of their children, and this focus includes how they prepare and pack lunches,” said Sandra Eskin, Deputy Under Secretary for Food Safety at the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA). “Because children are particularly at risk for serious foodborne illness, food safety must be at the top of the list when preparing lunches for school and field trips.”

Consider the following when prepping your children’s lunches:

Clean and sanitize surfaces and utensils: Before you start prepping your children’s lunches, clean and prep your area. A recent USDA study revealed that cross-contamination was common in the kitchen during food and meal prep. Furthermore, ensure you wash your cutting boards, dishes, utensils, and countertops with soap before and after preparing each food item. A homemade bleach-based solution containing one tablespoon of unscented liquid chlorine bleach to one gallon of water would be sufficient to clean and sanitize surfaces and utensils in your kitchen.

Use Different colored cutting boards: To avoid cross-contamination during food preparation, separate meat and poultry from ready-to-eat foods like fruits, vegetables, and cheeses.

Food thermometers for food prep: If you find yourself cooking a frozen food item for your child’s lunch, use a food thermometer to ensure the meal has reached a safe temperature to kill any harmful bacteria. Be mindful that some frozen foods don’t come fully cooked or are not ready-to-eat,  even though they have browned breading or grill marks. Be sure to cook your food to a safe internal temperature: meat, including whole beef, pork, and lamb, should be cooked to 145 F with a 3-minute rest; cook ground meats to 160 F; cook poultry (whole and ground) to 165 F; cook eggs to a 160 F; cook your fish and shellfish 145 F, and cook any leftovers or casseroles to 165 F.

Opt for an insulated lunch pack and gel packs:  Did you know that perishable foods can be unsafe to eat by lunchtime if you only pack them in a paper bag? Store it in an insulated bag to keep your meal cool throughout the day. Placing a frozen gel pack combined with a frozen juice box or bottle of water will keep your food from reaching the “Danger Zone” (temperatures between 40 F and 140 F, where bacteria can multiply quickly and cause illness).

Insulated containers work wonders:  Having hot soup, chili, or stew for lunch, use an insulated container to keep items hot at 140 F and above. Fill the container with boiling water, let it sit for a few minutes, empty it, then pour in the hot food. Keep the insulated container closed until lunchtime.

Handwashing aids are great for school lunches:  60% alcohol-based hand sanitizers and hand wipes are great for children to clean their hands before they eat if soap and water aren’t readily available.

Read more about USDA’s four steps to food safety and get your food-safe lunch questions answered by calling the USDA Meat and Poultry Hotline at 1-888-MPHotline (1-888-674-6854), email or chat live at from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Eastern Time, Monday through Friday.

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