WASHINGTON–(ENEWSPF)–August 26, 2010. It’s that time of year again. School is back in session, and everyone is transitioning from the ease of summer to a schedule jammed with homework and afterschool activities. The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) encourages parents and educators to take advantage of this time of new beginnings to teach kids the importance of food safety and how to protect themselves from foodborne illness.
“Children have a higher risk for foodborne illness, and they tend to have much more severe reactions to pathogens than adults,” said FSIS Administrator Al Almanza. “Teaching them how to protect themselves means we can reduce tragic illnesses now and continue to improve the public health of the next generation.”
Involving kids in packing their own lunches is a great way to start conversations about food safety in the home, and allowing kids to take part in the activity means they’ll remember the four important steps—Clean, Separate, Cook, Chill—better. When making lunches together, here are some pointers to keep in mind:
- Start with handwashing. Your child’s class probably makes a restroom trip to wash their hands before lunch or snacktime, but reinforce this rule at home. Interacting with classmates and sharing school supplies can make curious little hands especially vulnerable to bacteria. Get your kids in the habit of washing their hands before preparing and eating meals at home. Packing a lunch together is a good time to remind them of the importance of washing hands before eating at school, too.
- Be aware of allergens. It’s likely that your child’s school has a policy on foods containing peanuts, milk, or other ingredients to which many people can have severe allergic reactions. Some school cafeterias have a separate table for eating risky foods, while others ban them altogether. Whether or not your child has an allergy, make sure your family knows and follows the rules to keep the whole class safe.
- Discourage sharing. Remind your kids their lunch was packed with care just for them-not for their friends. While sharing is a good habit kids learn at school, not sharing lunches can prevent those nasty allergens from reaching the wrong mouth.
Cook and Chill
- Know your temperatures. Foods should never remain at room temperature for more than two hours, but that can happen easily in backpacks and lockers. Putting soups, leftover casseroles, and other hot foods in a thermos will ensure they do not drop into the food safety danger zone, 40°F to 140°F, where bacteria can spread rapidly. Lunch meats and other cold items can be kept at safe temperatures by including a frozen gel pack, juice box, or yogurt in a lunchbox. If you don’t have an insulated lunchbox, double bag to help preserve temperatures until lunchtime.
- Pack at night. Weekday mornings can be hectic for parents and kids alike. Packing lunches at night before going to bed ensures you have the time to pay attention to safety precautions and all the details that make home-prepared lunches so delicious. Just be sure to refrigerate any perishable items overnight, and you can always slip a fresh piece of lettuce or tomato onto a cold sandwich in the morning.
The FSIS website provides plenty of other ideas for teaching kids about foodborne illness and prevention steps. The Food Safety Education page, found at www.fsis.usda.gov/Food_Safety_Education, has puzzles, coloring pages, interactive games, and more to reinforce the “Clean, Separate, Cook, Chill” message. FSIS frequently uploads kid-friendly videos to its YouTube channel, www.youtube.com/USDAFoodSafety, in English, Spanish, and American Sign Language. We also encourage you to follow our Twitter feed, www.twitter.com/USDAFoodSafety, for short, seasonal food safety messages as well as notifications of recalls and health alerts. From August 23 through August 27, the feed will be presenting daily “lessons” on packing lunches safely at 12:00 p.m. EDT, when busy parents can check in on their lunch breaks.
Parents and educators with food safety questions can also “Ask Karen,” the FSIS virtual representative available 24 hours a day at www.AskKaren.gov. The toll-free USDA Meat & Poultry Hotline 1-888-MPHotline (1-888-674-6854) is available in English and Spanish and can be reached from l0 a.m. to 4 p.m. ET Monday through Friday. Recorded food safety messages are available 24 hours a day. Podcasts and SignFSIS video-casts in American Sign Language featuring text-captioning are available online at www.fsis.usda.gov/news_&_events/multimedia.
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