As the school year kicks off, it's time for a crash course in lunchbox food safety. Here's a study guide to help you keep food safe when packing lunches.
Clean—In a USDA study, 97 percent of participants in a test kitchen did not wash their hands properly. Use this hand washing cheat sheet before, during, and after preparing food and before eating to get to get an A+:
- Wet your hands with clean, running water, turn off the faucet, and apply soap
- Lather your hands by rubbing them together with soap. Lather the backs of your hands, between your fingers and under your nails.
- Scrub your hands for at least 20 seconds.
- Rinse your hands under clean, running water.
- Dry your hands using a clean towel.
Cutting boards—Avoid cross contamination when preparing foods. Use one cutting board for raw meats and another for vegetables, fruits, and ready-to-eat foods.
Packing lunch—Keep perishable foods like deli meats in an insulated lunchbox with a cold source, such as a frozen gel pack, water bottle or juice box. After packing lunch for the next day, place it in a refrigerator. Do not reuse packaging like resealable plastic bags as they can contaminate food.
Caution—Perishable foods can only be at room temperature for 2 hours because bacteria that cause food poisoning multiply quickest between 40°F and 140°F. If the foods are exposed to temperatures above 90°F (like a hot car), they can only be out for 1 hour. Never taste food to determine its safety. When in doubt, throw it out. While there may be substitute teachers, there's never a substitute for food safety.
Check out the food safety study guide for more tips — Clean, Separate, Cook and Chill.
For more questions about food safety, contact the USDA's Meat and Poultry Hotline at 1-888-MPHotline (1-888-674-6854) to talk to a food safety expert or chat live at ask.usda.gov from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Eastern Time, Monday through Friday.