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 pass any food safety pop quizzes when packing lunches.
Clean — In a USDA study (PDF, 3 MB), 97 percent of participants in a test kitchen received an F for failing to wash their hands properly. Use this hand washing cheat sheet to get an A+:
- Wet your hands with warm soapy water.
- 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 water.
- Dry your hands using a clean towel.
Cutting boards — In school we use chalk for blackboards, and markers for dry-erase boards. Meats and vegetables also need separate boards to avoid cross contamination. Use one cutting board for raw meats, and another for vegetables and fruits.
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. When 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. 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.
Follow 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.