It’s lunchtime – keep it clean!

Healthy lunch is not just about fruits, veggies and whole grains – it also means keeping it clean.

Thinking of packing healthy lunches? In addition to remembering the fruits, veggies and whole grains, also take into consideration food safety. School lunch, work lunch, snacks or treats all need to be handled with care to keep everyone healthy. Here are some tips that will keep the germs out of your lunch boxes and make eating safe.

Is your lunch box clean? Many plastic and stainless lunchboxes are dishwasher safe and should be run through the dishwasher if possible (check for care and label instructions). If not, wash the container inside and out with soap and water. Follow up with a cleaner. This is recommended because dirt can block germs, trapping them within – washing with soap and water first breaks down the dirt, and finishing with a cleaner will cleanse the germs. Finally, make sure the container is completely dry – mold and bacteria love moist environments.

Using a water bottle? Water bottles come in many shapes and sizes, those reusable bottles are breeding grounds for bacteria. When they are used over and over without washing in between, it is an open invitation for germs to rapidly multiply and expand. Washing, rinsing and sanitizing, or using your dishwasher is a great defense against water bottle germs.

How do you pack your lunch? Keeping it safe is most important. Start with clean hands and a clean work area. The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) suggests washing hands with warm water and soap for 20 seconds, cleaning and sanitizing countertops, avoiding cross-contamination and keeping hot food hot and cold food cold. Use a thermos for hot food items and ice-packs or frozen juice boxes or water bottles to keep cold food cold. Take a look at portion sizes. Is everything in the lunchbox being consumed at mealtime? If not, foods may be kept at inappropriate temperatures longer than what is considered safe, resulting in possible consumption of a food item that has passed it’s “shelf-life” on the bus ride home. Encourage the use of individual hand wipes if hand washing isn’t available prior to consuming food. Pack two towelettes, one for the hands and one to clean the eating area. Make sure produce has been properly washed before packing it in a lunch or a snack. Bananas and oranges need to be washed in clear, running water just like apples.

Michigan State University Extension says that most work spaces harbor more germs than restroom toilet seats! Think twice before opening up that sandwich and working through your lunch hour. It is recommended to utilize sanitizing wipes in your work areas, including desktops, keyboards and phones on a daily basis. Keep in mind refilling disposable water bottles is not recommended either – recycle them! Food particles can get lodged in them and not be easy to remove, creating an environment for bacteria to grow.

By taking a few precautionary steps towards packing lunches and snacks, you can keep yourself and your family healthy. Don’t let that lunch box become visibly dirty, plan on wiping it out daily just like you do the dishes and other healthy habits you practice. For more about food safety and other health habits from MSU Extension visit the safe food and water page.

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