Soon children will again be taking their lunches to school, and because they are at higher-than-normal risk for foodborne illness, parents and caregivers need to pack those lunches with food safety in mind, said Rebecca Dittmar, AgriLife Extension specialist in food protection management, Kerrville.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, almost 50% of annual salmonella infections happen to infants and school-age children.
Dittmar noted children typically have a higher risk of foodborne illness as their immune systems are not sufficiently developed to resist the bacteria that can grow on foods.
According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, food at temperatures between 40 and 140 degrees are in the “danger zone” and can allow bacteria to double in number in as little as 20 minutes.
For many foods, leaving them out at room temperature for longer than two hours can be risky.
To help prevent bacteria and foodborne illness, the USDA and Dittmar offer the following tips:
- Use an insulated lunch box or double paper bags.
- Use cold packs to cool perishable items such as lunch meats, eggs, cheese, milk and yogurt.
- Use a thermos or other insulated container to keep hot lunches at a warm temperature.
- Leave lunches in the refrigerator overnight if packing them the night before.
- Put individually packaged disposable wipes in the lunch box or bag and remind children to use them before and after eating. This also reinforces the importance of hand cleaning and washing before meals.
- Discard all used lunch packaging and bags, and clean lunch boxes after use.
Through the application of science-based knowledge, AgriLife Extension creates high-quality, relevant continuing education that encourages lasting and effective change.