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Today’s Lesson: Prepare Safe Lunches

Byline: Jesus Garcia, Public Affairs Specialist and Maribel Alonso, Technical Information Specialist, Food Safety and Inspection Service, USDA

Date: August 18, 2020

Today’s Lesson: Prepare Safe Lunches
Always follow food safety steps when preparing lunches at home
Photo courtesy of FSIS

With the 2020-2021 school year approaching, many parents are preparing for changes to their routine. Many students may be returning to school for the first time since the COVID-19 pandemic began and others may be distance learning. Don’t let foodborne illness – commonly called food poisoning – keep your child from learning. Take the time to plan and prepare your children’s lunch meals safely.

While children rely on teachers for daily lessons, the task of making safe lunches falls squarely on caregivers. Unlike cafeteria workers who take food safety trainings on a regular basis, most parents preparing lunch for their kids at home, or to take to school, haven’t received any formal food safety instruction. Nutrition counts, too. The lunch you’re making not only satisfies hunger pangs of busy kids, it fuels their cognitive abilities. Studies have shown that proper nutrition improves students’ scores, memory capacities, motor skills, social skills, and language skills. Keep them well fed and safe with the four steps to steps to food safety – Clean, Separate, Cook and Chill.

Clean: The best way to prevent many forms of illness, including foodborne illness, is with proper hand washing. Children should always clean their hands before eating, and parents should do so before and during lunch preparation. It’s easy to get preoccupied by busy schedules and rush through the five steps of washing hands; however, handwashing is vital to remove any germs that may be present. Hand washing should always include the following:

  1. Wet your hands with clean, running water (warm or cold), turn off the tap and apply soap.
  2. Lather your hands by rubbing them together with the soap. Be sure to lather the backs of your hands, between your fingers and under your nails.
  3. Scrub your hands for at least 20 seconds. Need a timer? Hum the “Happy Birthday” song from beginning to end twice.
  4. Rinse your hands well under clean, running water.
  5. Dry your hands using a clean towel.

Separate: Prevent cross-contamination by keeping raw meat and poultry away from ready-to-eat foods. When preparing perishable foods that require cutting (for example, raw bacon and raw chicken you plan to cook for salad), make sure you separate these items from fruits, vegetables, cheeses and other foods to avoid cross-contamination.

  • Cut up and prepare your raw ingredients ahead of time to avoid cross-contamination as you handle your ready-to-eat items for salads or other sides.
  • Different colored cutting boards are a great reminder to prevent cross-contamination (you can use a green cutting board for fresh produce and another color for meat and poultry).

Cook: Have a food thermometer easily accessible to ensure you’re cooking to recommended safe internal temperatures:

  • Cook whole cuts of meat, including beef and pork to 145 degrees Fahrenheit  and allow them to rest for at least 3 minutes before carving.
  • Cook ground meats, like burgers and sausages, to 160 degrees Fahrenheit .
  • Cook all chicken and turkey to 165 degrees Fahrenheit .

Chill: When preparing lunch ahead of time, remember perishable foods should not enter the Danger Zone – temperatures between 40 and 140 degrees Fahrenheit  – where bacteria multiply quickly and can make food unsafe.

  • Make sure all perishable items are refrigerated within two hours of coming out of the oven or refrigerator.
  • Discard food that has been left out for more than two hours to prevent foodborne illness.
  • If your child needs to carry their lunch themselves, never pack perishable foods in a brown paper bag because they will be unsafe by lunchtime. Use an insulated, soft-sided lunch bag and add a frozen gel pack and a frozen juice box or bottle of water with the lunch.

These four steps– Clean, Separate, Cook and Chill – give parents and caregivers steps they can use to protect their children from food poisoning. Now that we’ve covered all the basics, you’re ready for the big test – hungry students!

Consumers can learn more about key food safety practices at Foodsafety.gov, by following @USDAFoodSafety on Twitter and by liking Facebook.com/FoodSafety.gov. Consumers with questions about food safety can call the USDA Meat and Poultry Hotline at 1-888-MPHotline (1-888-674-6854) from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Eastern Time, Monday through Friday, in English or Spanish, or email to mphotline@usda.gov. Consumers can also chat live at https://ask.usda.gov/.

If you have questions about storage times for food or beverages, download USDA’s FoodKeeper application for Android and iOS devices.


 

Test Your Students’ Food Safety Knowledge Before Letting Them Have the Run of the Kitchen

Byline: Maribel Alonso, Senior Technical Information Specialist, Food Safety and Inspection Service, USDA

Date: September 7, 2020

Test Your Students’ Food Safety Knowledge Before Letting Them Have the Run  of the Kitchen
Teaching food safety to our children encourages healthy behaviors in future generations
Photo courtesy of FSIS

September is Food Safety Education Month and it’s a perfect time to test your children’s food safety knowledge before you let them take over your kitchen. Since the COVID-19 pandemic began, many children have spent more time at home – and visited the kitchen numerous times a day.

Many kids today are more health conscious than children generations ago. They aren’t just opening a bag of chips – they now prepare healthy sandwiches and salads and use the microwave to heat up other options like instant noodles or soup. USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service has developed resources you can use with your elementary, middle school or high school age children to see how much they really know about fighting germs.

You and your children can mark Food Safety Education Month by organizing a food safety workshop at home. Use these resources as you walk them around the kitchen and teach them some basic food safety tips. 

Start with food safety basics if your student is in K-5th grade:

  • Clean. Wash hands before touching food and after playing outside, playing with your pet, or going to the bathroom. Recent observational studies completed by USDA found that 99 percent of the participants in test kitchens didn’t wash their hands properly. Hand washing should always include five simple steps:
  1. Wet your hands with clean, running water (warm or cold), turn off the tap and apply soap.
  2. Lather your hands by rubbing them together with the soap. Be sure to lather the backs of your hands, between your fingers and under your nails.
  3. Scrub your hands for at least 20 seconds. Need a timer? Hum the “Happy Birthday” song from beginning to end twice.
  4. Rinse your hands well under clean, running water.
  5. Dry your hands using a clean towel.

*Tip: You can include a moist towelette or hand sanitizer with kids’ lunches or snacks to clean their hands before eating.

  • Separate. No backpacks on the kitchen counter. Place backpacks and sports equipment on the floor and NOT on the kitchen counter. These items can carry bacteria that can be transferred to the food. Also keep raw meat, poultry and eggs away from other foods; your child isn’t too young to learn which foods must be cooked before eating.
  • Cook. Always make sure your meat, poultry and egg products are completely cooked before preparing snacks and eating. It may be too early for your youngster to start using a food thermometer, but not too early to learn to read a product’s label to check if it is raw or cooked. Always check labels to avoid eating raw foods.
  • Chill. Keep food out of the Danger Zone. Don’t leave perishable food out of the refrigerator for more than two hours. This includes your lunch. Packed lunches need two cold sources to stay safe. Pack your lunch with a frozen gel pack and frozen juice box or water bottle to keep it cold.

Your 6th to 8th grader is more kitchen savvy and may explore with preparing and cooking more. Remind them of these additional food safety steps to avoid foodborne illness:

  • Clean: Wash hands with clean, running water and soap for at least 20 seconds before you start handling and preparing food, especially if you just finished chores like taking out the trash or feeding your pet. Clean counters and surfaces with soap and hot water before preparing foods to avoid cross-contamination. Sanitizing wipes are also handy for surfaces.
  • Separate: Don’t mix fruits with raw meat or poultry. Bacteria can contaminate the items you won’t be cooking and make you sick. And NO, it won’t be fun to stay home from school with food poisoning. Raw chicken nuggets could contaminate fruit and other ready to eat foods.
  • Cook: Before using the microwave to cook, did you read the food label? If they’re old enough to use a microwave, follow these tips:
    • Make sure to read the label carefully and follow cooking instructions (or recipe instructions). If a range of time is given, start with the fewest minutes recommended. If a safe internal temperature has not been reached after that, add additional cooking time until a safe internal temperature is reached as measured by a food thermometer.
    • Foods and liquids are heated unevenly in the microwave, so cover and stir or rotate food midway through cooking. If you don’t, you’ll have cold spots where harmful bacteria can survive.
    • Use only glass and other containers labeled “made for microwave use.”
  • Chill: Throw away leftover perishable foods that were out longer than two hours – or one hour if it’s above 90 degrees Fahrenheit. When in doubt, throw it out! Discard leftovers from lunch that weren’t kept cold. When preparing after school snacks, such as cut fruit or other perishable food, refrigerate them within two hours.

Multitasking Teenagers (9-12 grade)

At this age, kids are always busy with lots of schoolwork and activities. In addition to the information included above, here are important tips for this age group:

  • Clean: Washing hands properly is important at any age. Teenagers are always on the run, so keep hand sanitizer or disinfectant wipes in their backpack and in the car. 
  • Separate: Don’t cross-contaminate. Keep raw meat and poultry away from ready-to-eat foods. Use different cutting boards for raw meat or poultry and another for ready-to-eat foods like fruits or vegetables.
  • Cook: When cooking either in the microwave or on the stove, use a food thermometer to make sure your food is done. You can’t tell by looking if meat or poultry is fully cooked; color and texture are not reliable indicators of safety. Just as you take time to learn how to drive safely, it is as important to know how to use a food thermometer to check for safety and doneness. Place the food thermometer in the thickest part of food, without touching bone, fat or gristle. Follow these recommended internal temperatures.
    • Beef, pork, veal and lamb (roast, steaks and chops) should be cooked to 145 degrees Fahrenheit with a three minute “rest time” after removal from the heat source.
    • For ground meats, like burgers or sausage, cook them to 160 degrees Fahrenheit.
    • Cook eggs and egg dishes to 160 degrees Fahrenheit.
    • Poultry, such as chicken wings, breast and thighs should reach 165 degrees Fahrenheit.
    • Reheat leftovers to 165 degrees Fahrenheit.
  • Chill: Takeout foods should be treated the same way as leftovers at home. Don’t leave that pizza or carry out food in the car. Most foodborne illness-causing organisms grow quickly at room temperature; after 2 hours, they may be so numerous they cannot be killed by reheating.

Consumers can learn more about key food safety practices at Foodsafety.gov, by following @USDAFoodSafety on Twitter and by liking Facebook.com/FoodSafety.gov. Consumers with questions about food safety can call the USDA Meat and Poultry Hotline at 1-888-MPHotline (1-888-674-6854) from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Eastern Time, Monday through Friday, in English or Spanish, or email to mphotline@usda.gov. Consumers can also chat live at https://ask.usda.gov/.


 

Educational Resources that will Inspire Your Family to Learn and Practice Food Safety at Home

Byline: Maribel Alonso, Technical Information Specialist, Food Safety and Inspection Service, USDA

Date: September 7, 2020

Educational Resources that will Inspire Your Family to Learn and Practice Food Safety at Home
FSIS’ food safety education resources has fun learning activities for families
Photo courtesy of FSIS

You’re working from home and facing constant interruption by your child who needs help with a chore, schoolwork or preparing a snack. Sound familiar? Many of us are wearing several hats: the working-at-home professional, the teacher and the child entertainer.

Why not combine two of those roles – teacher and entertainer – with one activity to give yourself a bit of a break?

The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) has many food safety education resources for families, including the Food Safe Families Activity Book. Recently, this activity book was updated with science-based lesson plans that will help your youngster learn about and practice food safety while being stuck at home. This educational resource is for children from 6 to 10 years old and fits into science, technology, engineering and mathematics – STEM – curricula.

Friendly characters teach elementary school-age children about the four simple steps of food safety: Clean, Separate, Cook and Chill, plus the types of germs that can cause food poisoning. They’ll learn about food safety myths; for example, the myth that leftovers are safe to eat until they smell bad. In this book, food safety is taught through games, puzzles, and other activities based on the science of food safety. It also includes games for the whole family to test your household’s food smarts.

To learn more about key food safety practices, visit Foodsafety.gov and follow @USDAFoodSafety on Twitter, and like Facebook.com/FoodSafety.gov.

Have questions? You can chat live with food safety experts at https://ask.usda.gov/s/, Monday through Friday, from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Eastern Time. You can search for food safety answers on the website, which contains a database of the most frequently asked questions and answers in food safety. You can also call the USDA Meat and Poultry Hotline at 1-888-MP-HOTLINE (1-888-674-6854).

Got questions? You can chat live with food safety experts at https://ask.usda.gov/s/, Monday through Friday, from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Eastern Time. You can search for food safety answers on the website, which contains a database of the most frequently asked questions and answers in food safety. You can also call the USDA Meat and Poultry Hotline at 1-888-MP-HOTLINE (1-888-674-6854).

 

Last Modified Aug 17, 2020