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Robert M. Kerr Food & Agricultural Products Center

FAPC offers back-to-school food safety tips

A new school year is here and that means parents and caregivers may be concerned about whether children are eating the food packed in their lunch boxes. The more important concern, though, is whether the food is safe to eat. FAPC offers food safety tips for parents and caregivers to send their children to school with safe and satisfying lunches.

By Tori Lock, FAPC Communications Graduate Assistant

(Stillwater, Oklahoma – Aug. 14, 2018) A new school year is here and that means parents and caregivers may be concerned about whether or not children are eating the food packed in their lunch boxes. The more important concern, though, is whether the food is safe to eat.

According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Food Safety and Inspection Service, the most common foodborne illness is Salmonella infections. Approximately 50 percent of the 42,000 annual Salmonella infections occur in infants and school-age children.

Without proper storage, perishable food is at risk for harmful bacteria after four hours, said Ravi Jadeja, food safety specialist for Oklahoma State University’s Robert M. Kerr Food & Agricultural Products Center.

“Bacteria that can cause foodborne illness or food poisoning grow rapidly at temperatures between 40 and 140 degrees [Fahrenheit],” Jadeja said. “These microorganisms can multiply to dangerous levels in just four hours, but packed lunches and snacks can be kept safe by following USDA’s four steps to food safety: clean, separate, cook and chill.”

FAPC offers the following food safety tips for parents and caregivers to send their children to school with safe and satisfying lunches.

Packing and storing food

  • Start by washing hands thoroughly and ensuring contact surfaces, utensils and dishes are clean to prevent contamination.
  • Use separate cutting boards and utensils for produce, meat and poultry to prevent cross-contamination.
  • Wash all fruits and vegetables and ensure canned goods have not expired.
  • Include at least two cold sources to keep perishable foods at a safe temperature. A frozen juice box or water bottle can be used along with a freezer pack. Place the cold sources on top and bottom of the perishable food.
  • Prepackaged meals often contain perishable food and should be refrigerated and packed with cold sources.
  • Store lunches in an insulated lunchbox or soft-sided bag. Paper bags may not keep perishable items safe.
  • Pack lunches the night before and store in the refrigerator to keep food colder longer.

Eating and disposing leftovers

  • Include disposable wipes to clean hands before and after eating.
  • Discourage children from trading food during lunch since proper food safety protocols may not have been followed during preparation of other lunches.
  • Dispose of all remaining perishable food, packaging and paper bags when finished eating. Do not reuse packaging. Thoroughly clean storage containers and lunch bags between uses.

FAPC, a part of OSU’s Division of Agricultural Sciences and Natural Resources, helps to discover, develop and deliver technical and business information that stimulates and supports the growth of value-added food and agricultural products and processing in Oklahoma.

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Oklahoma State University is a modern land-grant university that prepares students for success. OSU has more than 36,000 students across its five-campus system and more than 25,000 on its combined Stillwater and Tulsa campuses, with students from all 50 states and around 120 nations. Established in 1890, Oklahoma State has graduated more than 260,000 students who have been serving Oklahoma and the world for 125 years.