Packing school lunches for your children is a great way to make sure they eat healthy. However, school-age children are extremely vulnerable to foodborne illness due to their developing immune systems. Therefore, it is important that you take precautions when you pack those lovingly-made lunches.
Foodborne illness is a lot more common than one might think. Prevalence of foodborne illness has almost tripled throughout the population in the past 18 years, with 48.24 reported cases in 2014 alone. According to the CDC, there were 1728 cases of foodborne illness in 2014 affecting children aged 5-9. Almost 16% of these cases resulted in hospitalization.
Here are some tips for making sure those lunches are safe.
- Keep cool – If you packed a lunch containing food items that spoil, such as yogurt, eggs or lunch meats, make sure it is packed with two cold sources such as freezer packs or frozen water bottles. Frozen juice boxes are a good cold source that can be consumed with the lunch. These foods can be unsafe to eat by lunchtime if packed in a paper bag, so consider using an insulated container or bag. If possible, have the child store the container in a refrigerator. Leave the container’s lid open so cool air can circulate and keep the lunch cool.
- Preparation – Just as the student should always wash their hands before eating, you should wash yours before preparation. Use clean cutting boards and use one for produce and a separate one for meats. Be sure to clean the lunch making surface, ideally disinfecting it from the previous night’s meal preparation. If you are cooking foods for lunches, make sure they have been heated to the correct temperature by using a food thermometer.
- Disposal – After lunch, make sure all leftover food and food packaging, such as sandwich bags, are thrown away. Any reusable containers should be washed with hot, soapy water. Wipe the interior of the lunch bag with a disinfectant wipe.
Packing school lunches for your child is a great strategy to promote a healthful diet. By packing lunches safely, you can be assured that proper nutrition will be delivered safely to your child.
About the Author
Jenifer Williams is a Registered Dietician at Moses Cone Hospital.