September 26, 2020

Back to School Meal Prep and Food Safety From Uncle Sam

Most schools in the United States start next Tuesday, after Labor Day. That prospect can be daunting for parents who provide lunches and snacks for their kids to tote to school, but Uncle Sam has some advice about making back to school meal prep easy.

Back to School Food Safety

First, it’s important to plan out the menu for the week. Look for recipes you know your kids will like, then create a shopping list based on the foods you need. Make sure, at the store, that you put any refrigerated or frozen foods into the cart last, just before you check out. And those items must be put in the refrigerator or freezer within two hours after you finish shopping.

Safe food preparation is next on the checklist for back to school lunches. Make sure that your kitchen is clean before you start to cook and prepare foods. Wipe down the counters, drawer handles, stove, and sink with warm soapy water and dry with a clean towel. Always wash your hands with warm soapy water before you start to work in the kitchen.

That may seem like basic advice, but a recent USDA study found that 97% of the time when study participants hold have washed their hands they didn’t, or did it incorrectly. This can lead to cross-contamination of refrigerator handles, spice containers, foods, and packages with potentially dangerous bacteria.

Rub your hands with soap under warm running water for 20 seconds, then dry thoroughly with a clean towel or paper towel. Don’t skip this step.

When you start to cook, be sure to follow the steps of Clean, Separate, Cook, and Chill. You already cleaned the kitchen. Now keep raw meats, poultry and eggs away from foods that are eaten raw. Always cook meats to a safe final internal temperature and test that temp with a food thermometer. Chill perishable foods within two hours.

You can prep many items ahead of time. Hard cook eggs the day before and refrigerate them, wash and cut up fruits and veggies, and cut deli meats and put them in storage eggs. Sandwiches can also be made ahead of time; store them in the fridge too.

Finally, safe packing is critical for back to school. Always use an insulated lunch bag. For cold foods, fill it with the chilled food and two cold sources. Use frozen water bottles, frozen juice boxes, or commercial freezer packs. think about storing the insulated bag, open, in the freezer overnight so it’s as cold as possible.

For hot foods, use an insulated container to make sure the food stays above 140°F. Tell your child to keep the insulated lunch bag closed so the food stays hot until lunch time.

Finally, leftovers should be discarded. An insulated lunch bag can only keep food at a safe temperature – it can’t cool food down or warm it up. And clean out the lunch bag every day when your child gets home.


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