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Back To School Food Safety Tips

It’s back to school and the kids are excited.  Gone is the boredom that they feel for being cooped up at home most of the time.  Everyday is now friends’ day, an excuse to be out of the house.  They’re eager to start a new school year, energized and enthusiastic after a long and lazy summer.

Parents, on the other hand, have mixed reactions.  Many parents feel like some routine would return to their family when school starts, as school days provide structure in both theirs and their children’s lives.  A lot are excited to watch them go off in the morning to enjoy school, reconnect with their friends, and learn.   But then there are those who feel saddened that the idle days of summer are over, and majority are apprehensive that the children are once again out in the real world, prone to any danger that they could encounter outside the house.

While we can’t control the people they meet day in and day out, we can control some other aspects, like the safety of their food.  School children go back to school with lunches that we prepare and pack in the morning, and they don’t eat it until lunchtime.  Special care must be taken to thwart the growth of any bacteria that might cause flu-like symptoms in our kids.

Washing of Hands

One thing we need to do while preparing food for our children in our personalized aprons is to wash our hands before, during and after food preparation.  The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) says that there is an approximate of 76 million incidents of food borne illnesses in the United States.  An estimated 325,000 of such cases lead to hospitalization, and many of these lead to death.  Food borne illness is defined as the outcome of consuming food that is contaminated with viruses, toxins, parasites or harmful bacteria.

Using hot soapy water is one of the most effective ways to free your hands, surfaces and utensils from harmful bacteria that can cause cross contamination.  Encourage your child to do this at all times, too.

Cold Foods, Hot Foods

Keep cold food cold and hot food hot.  Cold foods have to be kept under 40 degrees Fahrenheit to prevent the increase of harmful bacteria.  Once the temperature goes above 40 degrees, adequate bacteria can grow in the next two hours that would cause sickness.

Some parents in their personalized aprons prefer to use insulated lunch boxes than paper bags.  If you intend to use paper bags, it is best to double them to help with insulation.  Ice is perfect for insulation, and when you place it inside the lunch box, place it in a sealed, air tight bag.  There are a variety of ice packs that are available – in different sizes and shapes.  If you don’t want to buy, you can make your own ice packs.  In making your own ice pack, load an airtight bag with enough water one inch inside the seal and freeze.

Another way to keep your cold food cold is to pack a frozen juice drink together with the lunch.  This will keep the lunch as cold as when you packed it and will also provide a cold beverage once your child takes his lunch.  It you decide to send milk, make sure to store it in a well-insulated thermos.

If you have not prepared ice packs, you can freeze your sandwich. White bread becomes soggy by lunchtime, so make sure to use a coarser kind of bread, such as wheat.  Separate the dressings, tomato and lettuce from the sandwich to preserve its freshness.

Hot foods, on the other hand, need to be stored above 140 degrees Fahrenheit.  If the temperature falls below 140 degrees, harmful bacteria can grow that could cause food borne diseases.  It has to be placed in a pre-heated thermos.  To pre-heat, place hot water and let it sit for two to three minutes before putting in the hot food.  To maintain the temperature of the food, instruct your child not to open the thermos until he is ready to eat.

There is a variety of safe, non-perishable lunch foods that need not be kept hot or cold.  These include bread with peanut butter or some cheese spread; nuts and dried fruit; crackers, cookies and cereal; unopened canned fruits, meat or poultry; and fresh fruits and vegetables that have not been cut.

Lunch Containers

For your child’s lunch container, insulated ones are the best ones to use.  If you choose to use brown paper bags, remember that pre-used bags (grocery bags or others) can contain harmful bacteria.  Food containers should be washed with hot soapy water after every use.  Careful not to reuse food wraps or air tight bags.

Educate Your Child

Let your child know the importance of food safety.  Tell him not to allow his food to be at room temperature for more than 2 hours, or 1 hour if the weather is hot.  If there is no refrigerator for use, tell him to keep his lunch away from the sun.  His lunch is a lot safer in a dry, cool place.

Teach him how to pay attention to expiry dates or “use by” dates on perishable goods.  Harmful bacteria begin to grow on the food after these expiry dates.

Yes, some anxious parents are right.  We can’t really guard our children at all times, and we do have a reason to worry.  All we can really do is to cover everything we can while the children are at home and in our own turf, and let them know of the things they need to learn to get by in the real world.  Start with food safety, and later on, proceed with the other vital things he needs to know.