By Mary Saucier Choate, M.S., R.D.N., L.D., UNH Extension Field Specialist, Food Safety
Did you know that bad bacteria, the kind that can make you sick, can grow rapidly in foods that are in the temperature danger zone: between 40 and 140 degrees Fahrenheit? In only two hours, way before lunch time, these bacteria can multiply to dangerous levels. Parents and caregivers should be aware that young children typically have a higher risk of food borne illness because their immune systems are not fully developed.
Luckily, it’s not hard to keep bag lunches safe. Use these tips:
Before prepping lunches, wash your hands with soap and warm water for 20 seconds.
Also, make sure to clean countertops, cutting boards, dishes, and utensils with hot, soapy water.
We love the clean-up they do on the crumbs that reach the floor, but for food safety’s sake, keep family pets away from kitchen counters.
Freezing sandwiches helps them stay cold. But mayonnaise, lettuce, or tomatoes are best not frozen, so these can be portioned separately, and kept in the fridge. Remind your child to assemble their sandwich with clean hands right before eating.
Super organized? If you prefer to prepare the food the night before, keep perishable items wrapped, in the fridge, and hold off on filling lunch bags until right before leaving home to keep food at its coldest.
Pack Cold Keepers
Use an insulated lunch bag or lunchbox and two ice packs, positioned right on top and on the bottom of the food that needs to be kept cold, such as eggs, cheese or yogurt and sandwiches made with luncheon meats. Those tiny cute character ice packs may not be big enough to do the job, so be sure to use ones that are no smaller than 5x3 inches. Add the smaller, cute ones as extras, if you like.
Juice boxes can do double duty! Use frozen juice boxes or water as freezer packs. Freeze them overnight and use with at least one other freezer pack. By lunchtime, the liquids should be thawed and ready to drink.
Pack disposable wipes for washing hands before and after eating.
Is there a fridge available? Use it!
Of course, if there's a refrigerator available at work or school, store perishable items there upon arrival. Leave the bag open a little so that the cold air can keep the food cold.
Which foods are safe at room temp?
Foods that don’t require cold temperatures include whole fruits and vegetables, hard cheese, canned meat and fish, chips, breads, crackers, peanut butter, jelly, mustard, and pickles.
Mary Saucier Choate is a regional field specialist in food safety with the University of New Hampshire Cooperative Extension, located in Grafton County. She can be reached at (603) 787-6944 or firstname.lastname@example.org. UNH Cooperative Extension in Grafton County is located at the County Complex, 3855 Dartmouth College Highway in North Haverhill.