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USDA Offers Refresher Course in Packing a Safe School Lunch

The kids may be the ones back in school this week, but the U.S. Department of Agriculture has a test for parents. The topic? How to prepare a safe school lunch.

In an article published Wednesday, USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service asks and answers a series of “true or false” food safety questions. Each one describes a food preparation or storage technique and asks whether or not that step helps prevent foodborne illness.

“True or False: The ‘let stand’ step of microwave meal instructions is only there so I don’t burn myself,” asks FSIS.

The answer? False.

“Food continues to generate heat after the microwave is turned off,” explains the tip sheet. “That extra minute or two could mean the difference between a delicious meal and food poisoning.”

The fact that lunch boxes should contain a cold source, on the other hand, is true.

“Harmful bacteria multiply rapidly between 40 and 140 degrees F, so perishable food transported without an ice source will not stay safe long,” FSIS explains. At least two ice sources should accompany perishable foods in a lunchbox, the agency says. These can include frozen gel packs or even frozen juice boxes. Cold items should be placed above and below perishable food, and the lunchbox should be stored in a refrigerator if possible.

Other tips include:

– Discard foods containing meat that have been left out at room temperature for more than two hours, and

– Wash hands for 20 seconds before preparing food.

FSIS encourages families to go over these food safety tips together, and to make sure to adhere to the document’s recommendations in their daily routines.

“Preventing foodborne illness is part of USDA’s public health mission, but one in six Americans is still expected to get sick from the food they eat this year,” said Under Secretary for Food Safety Dr. Elisabeth Hagen in a statement Wednesday. “Back to school time provides an excellent opportunity for the whole family to brush up on food safety steps.”

The questions in this article are based on real calls to USDA’s Meat and Poultry Hotline, according to the agency.

USDA encourages consumers to visit www.AskKaren.gov to find answers to over 1,300 food safety questions or chat live with a representative. The Meat and Poultry Hotline, available at 1-888-MPHotline (1-888-674-6854) is open Monday through Friday between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. EST.

© Food Safety News
  • husna aijaz

    The recommended article published in USDA’s FSIS for our most vulnerable population lacks sense for the following reasons:
    Problem 1:
    • Kids don’t consume lunch till 4 hours into their school day
    • Most schools ask kids to store backpacks and lunchboxes outside the classroom for fear of ants etc.
    • Other times food undergoes temperature abuse as children carry their lunchboxes outdoors to catch up on PE before lunch.
    Argument: School districts provide educators with the convenience of an indoor lounge fully equipped with a refrigerator, a microwave and sometimes a stove too to ensure a relaxing afternoon meal. How about give our nation’s children a similar equal opportunity.Perhaps the multipurpose rooms in schools can function as an indoor cafeteria for the lunch hour? Or, perhaps a refrigerator and microwave in each classroom can serve as a food safety measure to a home packed lunch that undergoes time-temperature abuse at school?
    Solution: USDA’s FSIS should work with the US Department of Education to provide a refrigerator and microwave in each classroom to ensure food safety for our Nation’s kids. Measures need to be implemented in the western states for an indoor cafeteria during hot summer months.
    Problem 2: Recommending alcohol based sanitizers as an alternate to hand washing for children in schools to keep germs at bay.
    Argument: The first principle of HACCP is preventing physical, chemical and biological hazards from occurring in foods as a measure to food safety. Alcohol based sanitizers are not a safe alternative to hand washing as misuse before food intake can contribute to food poisoning.
    Solution: A non-alcohol based sanitizer should be the alternate recommendation to hand washing. Bathrooms at schools should be well equipped with warm water and anti-bacterial soap and educators should promote some public health in the classrooms?
    The following article in the business journal offers an alternative non-toxic safe solution to the alcohol based sanitizers.
    Husna Aijaz
    MS Food Science
    Certified Food Defense Coordinator (AIB)