September 5, 1998 | By: Ellen Brightwell

With the start of schools in Kentucky, many students are taking their own lunches. Food safety is especially important for young children because their immune systems, which help combat illnesses, have not developed fully.

"To avoid packing the potential for foodborne illness with your children's brown bag lunches, it's important to keep hot foods hot and cold foods cold," said Sandra Bastin, food and nutrition specialist with the University of Kentucky College of Agriculture. "Keep hot foods at no lower a temperature than 140 degrees F. Cold foods should be maintained at 45 degrees F or lower."

Parents can use several types of containers to keep brown-bag lunches safe by maintaining the appropriate food temperature. These include an insulated lunch box, freezer gel pack, or insulated bottle.

An insulated lunch box will help keep cold foods cold and hot foods hot. Even though the box is insulated, when packing a lunch containing cold foods, it's good to include a freezer gel pack, a freezer bag of ice cubes, or other cold food items like frozen juices.

"Freezer gel packs will maintain cold foods from morning until lunch but won't keep perishable foods safe past lunch time so discard any lunch leftovers," Bastin said. "Gel packs are good to put with cold foods such as meat or cheese sandwiches, salads containing mayonnaise, or other perishable foods. You usually can find gel packs in the kitchen supply area of supermarkets, discount or department stores, or specialty stores."

Make sandwiches containing meat the night before and keep them in the refrigerator or freezer until you pack the lunch.

To keep cold foods cold, students should put their lunches in a cool place in the classroom -- away from heat sources such as radiators and direct sunlight.

An insulated bottle keeps the heat in such foods as stew, soup, and chili. Fill an insulated bottle with boiling water and wait for several minutes; then empty the bottle and add pipping-hot foot. To keep hot food hot, keep the insulated bottle closed until lunch time.

"Wash your hands thoroughly with hot, soapy water before preparing the lunch," she said. "Also, clean counter tops, cutting boards and utensils with hot, soapy water between food preparation tasks. This is especially important to prevent bacterial contamination from handling different foods, high-protein foods and perishable items."

For more information on food safety, contact your county Extension office.

Contact: 

Writer: Ellen Brightwell
(606) 257-1376

Source: Sandra Bastin
(606) 257-1812