Experts in food safety are alerting parents to be aware when packing perishable items like sandwiches and yogurt in their child’s lunch.
The United States Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Tanya Brown said there is a two-hour window before those bagged lunches become breeding grounds for bacteria.
“You should not put perishable items like bologna sandwiches, turkey sandwiches, cheese or yogurt in a brown paper bag and send a child to school with it,” Brown said.
Foods can reach the “danger zone,” with temperatures between 40-140 degrees Fahrenheit, when it’s left out of refrigeration over two hours. After four hours has passed, the food item should be tossed.
“You want to make sure you put them in an insulated lunch bag with at least two cold sources and those two cold sources could be a frozen water bottle or frozen juice packs or gel packs in there. So, you want to put those perishable items in there and make sure the child does not open the bag and keep opening and closing the bag before lunchtime,” said Brown.
If you’re sending them with a hot item, use a thermos, and make sure to warm it up first.
“The best way to prepare it is to pour boiling hot water into the thermos first, then discard the hot water and then put the hot soup or stew in there. Make sure it’s at 165 degrees Fahrenheit,” Brown said.
While the leading source of sickness is poor hand washing, that is a problem with a simple solution.
“Oftentimes, children don’t get an opportunity to wash their hands before they go to lunch and just to trigger their memory put a moist toilette in there or some hand sanitizer to remind them before they start to eat their lunch,” Brown said.