According to the Centers for Disease Control, 1 in 6 Americans suffer a foodborne illness each year. Much of this is preventable. To insure packed lunches can be safely consumed, attention to proper food preparation and storage are essential. When packing lunches, it is important to not only wash hands before handling food but also to keep knives and cutting surfaces washed thoroughly with soap and hot water between uses and not just “dusted off” of crumbs and meat. I have 2 cutting boards, one for meat, and one for vegetables and fruits. Keeping each separate can prevent raw meat juices transferring to fresh vegetables and fruits which can cause illness.
Bacteria rapidly multiply between 40-140 degrees Fahrenheit, so it is important to keep cold foods as cold as possible and hot foods hot. If food is not refrigerated or kept to a proper temperature, consume within 2-3 hours to prevent food borne illness and its symptoms (abdominal cramps, diarrhea, nausea and vomiting, the most common). Also, if protein-containing foods have been in the refrigerator for more than a few days or have reached their expiration date, it is best to discard them, rather than to send them in a lunch when bacteria may already have reached unsafe levels.
When packing cold foods such as sandwiches, lunchmeats, or cheese, it is advisable to pack them in a hard-sided plastic container and then “sandwich” that container between blue ice, wrap securely in a small plastic produce bag and rubber band it before putting into a small insulated lunch bag to insure the cold foods stay cold. Wrapping food tightly in a lunch bag may help keep the blue ice in place, especially if it needs to be in a backpack with books.
When packing soups or stews for lunch, keep them cold until ready to reheat. This will avoid bacteria from flourishing, and then reheat thoroughly before eating. If hot foods or soup is packed into a thermos, be sure to preheat the thermos by pouring boiling water into it and draining it out, before adding the hot food, so as to keep the food hotter and at a safer temperature.
Taking just a few minutes to handle and pack food properly can make a huge difference in temperature and food safety and may prevent food borne illness from occurring.
For more information visit, www.foodsafety.gov.