Pack a safe and healthy lunch

Packing a healthy lunch involves more than just nutritious foods.

How many of you pack a lunch for work or school? How about off-site picnics and/or meetings? How many of you have ever had food poisoning? Do you know what causes foodborne illness?

Bacteria need moisture, temperatures in the danger zone, oxygen and something to eat (food) to grow. Most of the foods we eat have some moisture, and if not taken care of properly could get into the range for optimal bacterial growth. E coli and salmonella are just two bacteria that would love to find their way into your lunch!

In order to keep our brown bags or insulated lunch containers safe, Michigan State University Extension recommends that you:

  1. Remember the two hour rule – where do you put your lunch when you get to work? Does it have a “special” place under your desk or is it placed in the staff refrigerator? Do your children have somewhere to keep their lunches cool? You should not keep ready-to-eat foods at room temperature for over two hours.
  2. Know the danger zone – when foods are left between the temperatures of 40-140 degrees Fahrenheit, bacteria grow extremely well. Refrigerate your lunch to keep it safe!
  3. Know the temperature of the refrigerator where your lunch is kept – check the temperature at least weekly to ensure it stays out of the danger zone. Refrigerator thermometers are inexpensive and are left in the warmest part of the refrigerator – highest shelf and towards the front or in the door. If you don’t have one, you can find one for an inexpensive price at most stores that sell kitchen utensils.

Planning makes a difference when you pack lunches as well. Items should be wrapped in air-tight containers or wrapping. Gel packs should be used to keep temperatures cold, especially where a refrigerator is not available to store your lunch. You can also freeze a drink to help with keeping your lunch cold. By the time it’s lunch time, it should be thawed enough to drink. Wash any produce before packing so they will be ready to eat. It is very important to wash produce before cutting, even if you don’t eat the peel. When cutting through the product, any contaminate can be brought through the flesh. If left at room temperature, cut fruit should be disposed of after two hours.

If you take yogurt or other perishable items for lunch, remember that even if it is sealed and never opened, it should not be left in your lunch bag at your desk as it will get warm. If in doubt at how long something has been out, throw it out.

Healthy lunches are more than including fruits and vegetables, whole wheat, dairy and protein. Healthy lunches involve taking the time to make sure they are kept safe from food borne illnesses. Keep your lunch safe. Refrigerate when possible, and use frozen packs to keep items cold when you don’t have access to refrigeration.

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