COLLEGE STATION — When packing lunches, food safety should be a major concern, whether the meal is adult- or kid-prepared. Most dangers associated with food are due to the way we handle it in our own kitchens. Many people die from food poisoning each year and even more get sick for a few days and think it is the flu, when it was really something they ate.
Food-borne illnesses are usually caused by bacteria. Some are caused by viruses or poisonous chemicals. We usually refer to bacteria and viruses as germs. Germs are found everywhere but most are not harmful and those that are harmful, are so when they are large in number. Germs need food and water, time to reproduce, the right temperature and a way to get around (like on our fingers) to survive. Children are at the highest risk of food poisoning because their immune systems aren’t as strong and their bodies are much smaller, so it takes less bacteria to make them sick.
Always wash hands before handling food. Children’s hands are often dirty, so practicing good personal hygiene in the kitchen is very important Also washing hands after handling raw meat is important if preparing to handle other foods that will not be cooked. This is a common way of spreading germs and is very dangerous. If a child eats a salad that has been contaminated by germs from raw chicken it can make him very sick if the chicken contains a bacteria called Salmonella. Safe Temperatures
This means simply keeping cold foods cold and hot foods hot. Never leave meat out all day to thaw or serve leftover foods that have been left out all night. These foods have reached temperatures that we call the “danger zone.” This is when a food was either not kept cold or hot enough and was at the right temperature for bacteria to grow and reproduce.
When thawing foods, it is best to place them on the bottom shelf of the refrigerator in a pan or bowl to catch the juice, the night before preparation. Leftover foods also should be stored promptly after the meal in a sealed container and heated thoroughly when eaten at a later time. When kids have leftovers for lunch, make sure that the food is no more than three days old.
Keeping perishable foods at safe temperatures is just the beginning. Cooking fish, poultry, eggs and meat thoroughly is very important. Using utensils to handle food instead of your hands is another way to avoid spreading germs. Washing fresh fruits and vegetables before serving is essential to avoid getting sick from the chemicals that may have been sprayed on them for preservation. It also important to inspect canned foods and avoid those that are bulging or are dented. These foods could contain the bacteria Clostridium botulinum, which is very dangerous. You should always refrigerate any foods containing meat, fish, eggs, milk products or cheese. These foods have a specific shelf life and should not be kept longer than is printed on the package.
Involve your children in regularly cleaning equipment, counter tops, eating areas and even the dishes. Replacing or sanitizing sponges and towels can greatly prevent spreading of bacteria. Having separate cutting boards for meat is another important way to reduce chances of food-borne illness and plastic cutting boards are best because they don’t provide housing areas for bacteria. By keeping the food preparation area clean and teaching your children about the importance of food safety, both you and your children can enjoy meal time.