-- Mary Elizabeth Dallas
THURSDAY, Sept. 12 (HealthDay News) -- Schoolchildren should start each day with a clean lunch bag or box to help prevent the growth of potentially harmful bacteria, according to a food safety expert.
Insulated, vinyl lunch bags are most effective in keeping foods cool and fresh during the day, and when kids get home from school, parents or caregivers should clean the bags with warm soapy water, and allow them to dry completely overnight, said Rutgers University professor Don Schaffner, an extension specialist in food science.
This is just one way to ensure children's school lunches are safe enough to eat, noted Schaffner, who is also a spokesperson for the Institute of Food Technologists.
"When you're packing a school lunch, it's important to think about the perishability of the foods you're making," Schaffner said in an institute news release. "Perishable foods can remain at room temperature for no more than two hours -- one in the summer due to the heat. Properly refrigerated foods can last a long time, but most schoolchildren won't have access to a refrigerator where they can store their lunchbox."
Parents and caregivers can take other steps to make sure children's school lunches are safe, including the following:
"Not planning adequately, not thinking about the amount of time it's going to take, from the time that food is prepared until that food is eaten, is a common mistake," Schaffner said. "At night, wash the cold pack and make sure it goes back in the freezer so it's ready for the next day. Give yourself plenty of time in the morning to wash your hands thoroughly before handling food. And keep stressing to kids the importance of washing their own hands before they sit down to lunch each day."
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has more about food safety.
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