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Keeping it safe when brown-bagging


Special to the C-I


Whether it’s students taking lunch to school or adults packing lunch for work, millions of people across the country pack a bag lunch each day. Bag lunches should be handled with care to make sure the meal inside remains tasty and safe to eat.

Follow these safety tips to avoid food borne illnesses when preparing lunches:

• Keep foods clean. This not only applies to the food, but also the preparation surfaces, hands and utensils. Keep family pets away from kitchen counters. Cats are notorious for getting on countertops and the last thing someone wants is kitty-litter feet on the same surface where food is prepared.

• Keep foods out of the danger zone. The danger zone for moist, high protein food is considered to be temperatures between 40 and 140 degrees. In this range, bacteria flourish and can grow to amounts great enough to cause illnesses. Therefore, it is best to store a packed lunch out of direct sunlight and away from radiators and other heat sources. An even better option is to pack foods that don’t require refrigeration, such as fruits, raw vegetables, crackers, peanut butter, hard cheese and pickles. These foods will stay safe at room temperature.

• Keep cold foods cold. The best way to keep cold foods cold is to use an insulated lunchbox. When packing lunches, include either freezer gel packs or frozen food items such as small juice packs. Put perishable meat, poultry or egg sandwiches between these cold items. Sandwiches can also be made ahead of time and kept refrigerated or frozen before placing in the lunchbox.

• Keep hot foods hot. Foods like soup, chili and stew need to stay hot. Use an insulated bottle stored in an insulated lunchbox. Fill the thermos with boiling water, let it stand for a few minutes, empty and then fill with piping hot food. Do not open the thermos until ready to eat the food inside.

• Overcome temptation. If a bag lunch is packed with little or no attention given to the nutritional content, calories can add up while protein, complex carbohydrates and vitamins and minerals are lacking. Try to avoid overloading on chips, snack cakes and soft drinks. These foods offer a large amount of calories, but very little in the way of good nutrition.

When packing a lunch for children, remember to keep it simple. Kids typically prefer plain sliced meat or sliced cheese or peanut butter on a sandwich, rather than combination foods, such as chicken salad. Kids also tend to prefer items such as juice boxes and milk boxes, which can be frozen ahead of time and placed in the lunchbox to keep any perishable foods at a cool temperature.

Low-fat pudding cups are also an excellent options for children’s lunches. Chopped fruit and applesauce are also available in individual-sized cups, just remember to include a disposable spoon with the lunch.

For questions regarding nutrition and food safety, contact Deon Legette, Food Safety/Nutrition Agent at 635-4722 or visit the Home and Garden Information Center website at www.hgic.clem