Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Back to School Lunch Box Safety

When I was a kid my mom would make my lunch, typically a sandwich. My favorites sandwiches were egg salad or tuna sandwiches. The sandwiches were typically made in the morning, put in a sandwich bag and then placed in brown bag. The lunch bag would sit in my locker from 8am until lunch time at 11:30am. OK so not the safest food handling procedures but I survived.

Times have changed! Lunch bags and boxes have become insulated. Small ice gel packs are available to keep food in lunch boxes cool. Insulated food containers to keep hot food hot and cold food cold.

When packing a lunch please consider.

Hot food needs to be hot and cold food needs to be cold.  According to the FDA, harmful bacteria multiply rapidly on perishable foods when they are left in "the danger zone" which is 40 -140 degrees F. This means foods cold foods like deli meats, tuna salad, chicken salad, egg salad, yogurt and cheese need to stay under 40 degrees F. It is recommended by the FDA that perishable foods that have been exposed to the danger zone for two hours be discarded and that if the temperature is above 90 degrees F food should be discarded after one hour.

  In order to keep foods cold:
  • Pack lunch in an insulated lunch box and then put a frozen gel pack or two in the lunch box to keep it cold. I usually store the insulated lunch box in the refrigerator so it is already cold when I pack the lunch.
  • When making sandwiches use refrigerated bread or wraps so you are not placing cold meat on room temperature bread.
  • When making items like tuna salad, chicken salad or egg salad make sure all the ingredients are cold before mixing them together. If you refrigerate the can of tuna and mix it with cold mayo the tuna salad stays out of the danger zone.
  •  When packing yogurt I usually place it in the freezer an hour or so before school so it is extra cold when I put it in the bag.

I personally do not suggest packing a hot lunch. I have time and temperature tested some insulated food containers and have not had much success in keeping food out of the danger zone. When I questioned one manufacturer about this I was told that their standard was to keep the food at 120 degrees or higher for 5 hours. Since, the food could fall within the danger zone within the first hour and could be sitting in the danger zone for two or three hours before lunch I deemed it not worth the risk or worry. (I admit I worry a lot about food borne illness...probably sat through to many food safety classes!)

I found these icepacks at online which I thought were neat...they are sweat proof so moisture does not get all over the inside of the lunch box! See link to Amazon below.