Dietitians Dish: Use safe practices when packing lunches
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by Jami MartinPacking a healthy lunch is important to meet many goals, however staying mindful of food safety is equally important. Anytime food is left un-refrigerated for extended periods of time there is an increased risk for food borne illness. This can put ourselves and others at risk of getting sick. Our goals are to keep foods out of the Danger Zone 40 to 140 degrees and to keep cold food cold and hot foods hot.
The following are tips to keep in mind when packing a lunch for yourself or your children.
Start with a clean work area. Clean and then sanitize. Sanitizing surfaces can be accomplished by using a solution with 1 tablespoon of unscented chlorine bleach mixed in one gallon of water. This can be used for preparation areas, utensils and plastic lunch bags and boxes.
Wash hands often: before preparation, when changing from preparation of one food item to another and finally, afterwards to prevent cross contamination.
Keep a clean lunch box or bag, remembering to wash it with warm soapy water after each use.
Avoid reusing paper, sandwich and grocery bags, as they may increase the risk of cross contamination.
Insulated lunch bags or boxes are a preferred storage option as they are best at keeping foods cold, especially when cold packs are used to keep foods less than 40 degrees. Paper bags also can be used with cold packs. Hint: Slip a cold pack in an air tight bag to prevent condensation.
Freeze foods, such as leftovers or sandwiches, the night before to put into lunches. This keeps them cold, while maintaining quality. When freezing a sandwich use whole grain or dense bread for the best quality, and serve the mayonnaise and vegetable fixings on the side at meal time.
If you do not have cold packs, freeze small bottles of water or juice boxes instead.
Use insulated containers to help keep food greater than 140 degrees. To maintain a safe temperature, fill the insulated container with boiling water and let it stand for a few minutes. Then discard the water and fill with hot food. Keep the container closed until you are ready to eat.
When microwaving, follow the package directions to reach the appropriate temperature or reheat till steaming hot or to 165 degrees.
Jami Martin is a Registered and Licensed Dietitian. Send questions or comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.