Parents will know that packing school lunches isn’t always easy. While a packed lunch is a healthy, cost-effective option for families, improper packaging or storage can lead to food poisoning and other issues. Interested in how you can keep your child’s school lunches safe? Read on for our helpful food safety hints.
Keep it cool
Bacteria thrive on food at temperatures between 5-60ºC. And it doesn’t take long for it to grow – in only a few hours, bacteria can reach dangerous numbers and greatly increase the risk of food poisoning. The most common culprits harvesting these bacteria include cooked chicken and meats, dairy products and sandwich fillings – items you might easily find in a school lunchbox. Ensuring your child’s lunchbox is kept in their school bag, with a frozen drink or freezer block stored inside, will help keep food at safe temperatures.
Choose your lunchbox wisely
You might think a lunchbox is just a lunchbox, but the type of container you choose for your child’s school lunches does have a bearing on food safety. We recommend choosing a box that’s easy to clean and dry, and that has room for that handy freezer block or drink. It’s also wise to replace lunchboxes if you notice cracks, splits or scratches, as these are known breeding places for bacteria.
Keep things clean
Before you start preparing food, as you work, and after you’ve finished, it’s crucial you keep your hands clean to avoid spreading any bacteria to the food you’ll give your child. Keep your food preparation areas clean and dry, especially when assembling different elements of a meal – we recommend using separate cutting boards for raw meat and fresh produce to help. Also make sure you thoroughly wash any fruits or vegetables you’re giving your child, to ensure they’re as free as possible of any harmful contaminants and bacteria.
Make smart food choices
Soft cheeses, leftover meats, or unwashed fruits and vegetables are great friends with those bad bacteria. To keep your child as safe as possible, we recommend choosing lower-risk foods. They might be a few slices of a harder cheese, a sandwich made with a spread or freshly-cooked chicken or meat, canned meat or fish, or a couple of whole pieces of fresh fruits you’ve washed well beforehand. These lower-risk foods are particularly helpful in warmer weather, as you don’t need to worry so much about keeping them cool during the day.
And who says hot food can’t be taken safely to school? If you give your child a hot meal, like soup, make sure it’s packed in an insulated container that you’ve pre-heated with boiling water first. Tell your child to keep the container closed until they’re ready to eat to ensure the food stays at a safe temperature.
Practice safe storage
It might not seem like a big deal, but home storage of your child’s lunch really does matter. Make sure any foods you’ll be giving your child to take to school are kept apart from other foods, especially from raw meats. Keep the lunchbox in the fridge until you’re ready to leave home. And when assembling the box, try and pack those perishable foods like meat, eggs, cheese or yoghurt between the frozen items.
Check at the end of the day
You might think any uneaten sandwich or dairy product can just be taken to school again the next day. As these perishable items experienced differences in temperature due to being outside of a fridge during the day, they should be discarded of if they’re not eaten fresh. This also goes for paper or plastic bags – you might think it’s smart to reuse them, but they’re great breeding grounds for those unfriendly bacteria. Make sure you check and clean your child’s lunchbox at the end of each school day.
Teach your kids to be safe
Encouraging your child to wash their hands for at least 20 seconds and dry them thoroughly before they eat will help them develop great food safety practices and will ensure their risk of developing food poisoning at school is kept to a minimum.
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