USDA Gives Tips for Keeping Kids' Food Safe All Day
| Susan Conley (301) 344-4755
Matt Baun (301) 344-4743
WASHINGTON, Aug. 18, 2006 - From the morning
off-to-school rush until the kids come home after the bell sounds,
knowing how to keep food safe is an important first lesson to learn
during the new school year. By heeding USDA's key back-to-school food
safety messages, parents and kids will know how to avoid the risk
of foodborne illness.
"Parents and children need to know the dangers of foodborne
illness," said USDA Under Secretary for Food Safety Dr. Richard
Raymond. "Packing lunches to take to school and after school
snacking are vulnerable to the top two causes of foodborne illness:
not keeping perishable food cold and not cooking or re-heating food
to a high enough temperature to destroy any germs that may be present."
Dr. Raymond, a family physician, noted that the Danger Zone
— temperatures between 40°F and 140°F — creates
an environment in which harmful bacteria can multiply rapidly. Food
should not be left out at room temperature for more than two hours.
Raymond also noted that children are more likely than healthy adults
to be victims of foodborne illness.
Food Safety and "Bag" Lunches
To help parents and children combat foodborne illness, USDA is providing
the following tips to ensure the safety of "bag" lunches:
- Washing hands is one of the most common ways to stop bacteria
from spreading. The first step to good food safety is to wash
your hands with soap and warm water for 20 seconds before lunches
are prepared or eaten.
- It is important to wash cutting boards, dishes, utensils, and
countertops with hot, soapy water after preparing each food item.
- Perishable foods like prepackaged lunch combinations that include
luncheon meats with crackers, cheese and condiments should be
kept cold by using freezer gel packs or a frozen juice carton.
Insulated, soft-sided lunch boxes or bags are best for keeping
food cold, but metal or plastic lunch boxes and paper bags can
also be used. If using paper lunch bags, create layers by double
bagging to help insulate the food.
- For foods such as chili, soups and stew, use an insulated container.
Parents should fill the container with boiling water, let stand
for a few minutes, empty, and then put in the piping hot food.
Keep the container closed until lunchtime so the food remains
- Pack only the amount of perishable food that will be eaten at
lunch. That way, there won't be a problem about keeping leftovers
safe. Preparing the food the night before and storing it in the
refrigerator and packing the lunch in the morning can help keep
the food cold longer.
- Cross-contamination can occur by reusing packaging materials
such as paper or plastic bags, food wraps and aluminum foil. At
lunchtime, discard all used food packaging and paper bags; they
might contaminate other food and cause foodborne illness. Also,
discard perishable leftovers unless they can be safely chilled
immediately after lunch and upon returning home.
Food Safety and After School Snacking
Older children may be home alone for an hour or two after school,
these tips will help make sure after school snacks and meals are safe
from foodborne bacteria:
- If children are old enough to use a microwave oven to reheat
foods, teach them how to use a food thermometer to check for safety.
When reheating leftovers, heat to 165°F.
- Foods and liquids are heated unevenly in the microwave oven,
so stir or rotate food midway through cooking. If you don't, then
you'll have cold spots where harmful bacteria can survive.
- Be sure to cover food with a lid or plastic wrap when reheating
in a microwave oven. Wrap loosely to let steam escape. The moist
heat will help heat the food evenly and destroy harmful bacteria.
- To prevent burns, carefully remove food from the microwave oven.
- Do not use plastic containers such a margarine tubs or other
one-time use containers in the microwave. They can warp or melt,
possibly causing harmful chemicals to get in the food.
- When reheating ready-to-eat foods, such as hot dogs, heat to
165°F or until steaming. Be sure to pierce hot dogs with a
fork before putting them into the microwave oven to keep them
- Pizza should never be eaten if it has been sitting out longer
than two hours. This is true whether pizza is topped with meat
or vegetables. The rule of thumb for pizza and other perishable
food is to discard it if it has been left in the Danger Zone for
more than two hours.
- Never taste a food to determine whether it is safe.
- If you are not sure how long perishable food has been left out,
throw it away. When it doubt, throw it out!
August 18, 2006
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