School lunch safety

This week is the last week for QLD state schools before they break for the Christmas holidays. Schools in NSW and VIC will not be far behind them. School lunch safety is something we should all take a moment to consider. It is a good time to reflect on the year that has past, while also considering how we will approach the holiday season and next year. It is important to remember not only ‘what’ to pack for lunches, but also consider ‘how’ we pack the food. All parents want the best nutrition for their children and put a great deal of thought and care into ‘what’ food they pack, but sometimes, either due to lack of time and/or knowledge, don’t always consider the ‘how’ they pack the food, and what food safety issues might be a direct result of their best intentions. This also holds true for lunches that we may pack for ourselves to take to work.

With the quite extreme weather fluctuations that we have seen this year, it is important to realise that bacteria can grow quickly, especially in what we consider healthy alternative foods, such as salads and cold meats. These types of food require handling consideration, regarding whether they need to be packed in an insulated container or have cold bricks to accompany them, with perishable items placed between the cold packs. It is quite fine to prepare and pack lunches the previous night, as long as they are kept in the fridge or are frozen. There are multiple low risk foods that can be considered for lunches are well, such as hard cheeses, fruit and vegetables that have been thoroughly cleaned and canned tuna. These types of foods are easily packed into clean lunchboxes, although it is important to remember that from a hygiene perspective, all lunchboxes and drink bottles need to be washed daily to prevent the build up of potential harmful bacteria.

In homes, it is also a good idea to keep track of the frequency of when tea towels are being washed, as they can sometimes be overlooked in the normal washing basket trip to the laundry, yet get used for a variety of applications in the kitchen, many outside of the original intent of drying dishes (such as face wiping, mopping up spills, wiping down the table top etc).

Quite often during the holiday period, more food is cooked for dinners than can be eaten, and ‘leftovers’ becomes quite a regular word and sight in the fridge. It is important to keep cooked foodstuffs separated in the fridge, especially cooked foods from raw meats and poultry, which should remain on the bottom shelf to avoid potential drips on to other food items in the fridge. If you reach into the fridge and are looking to reheat food from the previous night for lunches (something that is quite common in holiday periods), you need to make sure that the food is steaming all the way through before consuming. You can distribute the heat by stirring or turning the food. If you keep to these basic tips, you will definitely have reduced the possibility of requiring a doctor’s certificate due to food sickness. If you require further in depth information, consider a food handling certificate course that provides a great deal of useful information.