How To Keep School Lunches Safe

Food poisoning can occur anywhere food is prepared or served. School lunches are no exception. Many of the germs that cause food poisoning are already in our food when we bring it home from the store. They are just not there in high enough numbers to cause a problem. But, if you make a few mistakes in preparing or handling the food, they can quickly multiply to unsafe levels. Since you can't see, smell or taste these germs, there is no way for you to know they are there, until they cause illness.

The foods that commonly cause food poisoning are called hazardous foods. These include high protein foods such as meat, processed meat, poultry, eggs, gravy, milk, milk products, soft cheese, fish and shellfish. A few foods which are high in carbohydrates, such as cooked rice, can also be dangerous. Even some desserts, such as a few types of custards, puddings, and whipped cream can cause problems.

Food poisoning occurs when hazardous foods are allowed to sit at room temperature for extended periods of time. In these conditions the food poisoning germs in the food can double in number every 20 to 30 minutes. In just a few hours the food can change from safe to extremely dangerous. To prevent this, hazardous foods must be kept out of the DANGER ZONE temperature range as much as possible. This is the temperature range between 4°C (40° F) and 60°C (140°F). The key is to keep cold foods cold, below 4°C (40°F), and hot foods hot, above 60°C (140°F).

For school lunches this becomes a problem since children rarely have access to a refrigerator where they can store their lunches when they get to school. The best way to keep the sandwiches cold until they are eaten is to make sure all the ingredients are cold when you prepare them. This means that all of the ingredients to be included in the sandwich should be placed in the refrigerator (or freezer if possible) to chill the night before. This includes the bread, the filling, and the butter or margarine. In the morning, prepare the sandwich, wrap it and place it in an insulated lunch pack so that it is in contact with a freezer pack or frozen drinking box. Under normal circumstances, this will minimize, but not eliminate the risk of a foodborne illness. 

Hot foods must be kept piping hot until lunch. Since children don't normally have access to a stove at school, the only way to keep foods such as soup, chili or stew hot enough is to use a good quality thermos. Always be sure to preheat the thermos, as per the manufacturers instructions, before adding the hot food.

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Title:  How To Keep School Lunches Safe
Author:  NBDHU.ON.CA
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