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Food Safety Feature Articles


Keeping school lunches safe

Janet M. Hackert, Regional Nutrition and Health Education Specialist, University of Missouri Extension


School is back in session and for many that means back-to-school lunches. Whether you pack a lunch for your scholar or for yourself, the Dietary Guidelines for Americans gives some basic food safety tips for all of us.

The USDA recommends that we clean hands, food contact surfaces, and fruits and vegetables; and chill (refrigerate) perishable food promptly and keep it cold.

Washing hands with soap and warm water is nothing new. Washing fruits and vegetables, though, may not be the norm for everyone. Stop and think for a moment how many people have handled an apple or green pepper before you get it home from a store. Someone picked and packed it. Someone unloaded and stacked it in the store. Perhaps another shopper picked it up, and returned it. Then you put it in your cart and the same person who gave you your change will likely be the one to put it in a sack. That’s a lot of opportunity for contamination. It just makes sense to wash it before eating it.

But what about if you don’t eat the peel or skin? If there are germs on the outside of a banana, for example, as you peel it and touch the inside, you will be spreading those germs inside. Likewise, when slicing those juicy watermelons or cantaloupes, the knife drags any germs from the outside into the part we eat. So it’s advisable to wash all fruit, whether it is peeled or not.

As for keeping foods cold, there are a lot of ways to keep foods in a lunch cold until lunch time. The obvious would be to put the food in a refrigerator at school (or at work). An insulated lunch box with a freezer box in it works too, especially if it’s kept in a cool place and not in a sunny window. Frozen foods can also keep other cold foods cold in an insulated lunch bag or box. For example, a container of frozen peaches or a frozen water bottle can be used instead of a freezer box. A meat or cheese sandwich can be made the night before, frozen and used as a cold source in the lunch box.

For more information on these or other food safety tips, refer to the Dietary Guidelines for Americans.


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Last update: Wednesday, June 08, 2011