Posts belonging to Category food safety

Rethinking the Bag Lunch

bag lunchThe brown paper bag lunch was the lunch of choice, well actually the only choice for school lunch when my son was in elementary school.

There was no school cafeteria, just a lunch room where he could purchase a container of milk and sit with friends eating, sharing and trading what was in his brown paper bag.

Given the lack of refrigeration at his school, my daily challenge was to pack a lunch that wouldn’t spoil between the time he left for school and his lunch period.

Today’s elementary schools have cafeterias, where a child can purchase lunch or, if he or she qualifies, participate in a subsidized lunch program. However this is not the case in many daycare centers and preschools where a child must still carry his or her own lunch.

A recent study, funded by the National Institutes of Health, raised concerns about the safety of carrying and eating a bag lunch even when the lunch is in an insulated bag that contain ice packs or other coolant.

About half of daycare centers in the U.S. require kids to bring lunch from home. The investigators examined lunches of 235 daycare attendees at nine Texas centers. The individual contents of their sack lunches were assessed on three random days between 9:30 and 11 a.m.

Of the 705 lunches, 11.8% were stored in a refrigerator, but teachers often left them sitting out for a couple hours first. The rest were stored at room temperature in cubbies without much air circulation.

While about 91% of the lunches were sent in insulated plastic bags, the mean temperature of food items reached nearly room temperature (63.7 °F). Just 22 of the 1361 perishable food items (1.6%) were in the “safe” range below 39.2°F.

Ice packs didn’t help much. Only five of the 61 perishable food items with multiple ice packs in the lunch bag stayed the right temperature (8.2%).

Investigators found nearly all lunches packed from home got too warm to prevent food-borne illness despite use of ice packs. Even with the use of multiple ice packs, more than 90% of perishables in the lunches reached unsafe temperatures.

The study points to the need for:

  • Preschool and daycare staff receiving more training in food safety
  • Parents finding better ways to pack lunches safely
  • Manufacturers developing ice packs and lunch bags that do a better job

Food Safety at Summer Fairs and Festivals

foodThe Centers for Disease Control want us to practice food safety at fairs and festivals throughout the summer.

One of the CDC publications  asks us to remember that the usual safety controls that a kitchen provides, like thermostat-controlled cooking, refrigeration, and washing facilities, may not be available when cooking and dining at these events. Here are some things they suggest you do or find out to prevent foodborne illness:

Before you buy food from a vendor check out the following:

  • Does the vendor have a clean/tidy workstation?
  • Does the vendor have a sink for employees to wash their hands?
  • Do the employees wear gloves or use tongs when handling food?
  • Does the vendor have refrigeration on site for raw ingredients or pre-cooked foods?
  • Has the vendor been inspected? Requirements vary by state, but in general, temporary and mobile vendors, like those at fairs and carnivals, should have a license to sell food and beverages in a particular state or county. You can check with the local health department to see if the vendors are licensed and if a food inspection has been completed.

Are there healthy food alternatives to consider at fairs and festivals?

When purchasing food from a vendor, look for foods that are healthy for you. If they are not available, consider bringing your own food to save money and calories. Don’t forget to keep safe food storage practices in mind.

If bringing food from home, what are the proper food handling and storage practices?

If you bring food to a fair or festival from home, be sure to keep food handling and storage times in mind. Don’t let food sit out for more than two hours. On a hot day (90°F or higher), reduce this time to one hour. Be sure to put perishable items in a cooler or insulated bag

Remember to Wash Hands Often:

  • Find out where hand washing stations are located.
  • Always wash your hands right after petting animals, touching the animal enclosure, and exiting animal areas even if you did not touch an animal.
  • Always wash hands after using the restroom, after playing a game or going on a ride, before eating and drinking, before preparing food or drinks, after changing diapers, and after removing soiled clothes or shoes.
  • Bring hand sanitizers or disposable wipes in case there aren’t any places to wash your hands.

Report Illness:

Anytime you suspect you may have contracted a foodborne illness, report it to your local health department, even if it is after you have recovered. The local public health department is an important part of the food safety system. Often, calls from concerned citizens are how outbreaks are first detected. If a public health official contacts you to find out more about an illness you had, your cooperation is important. In public health investigations, it can be as important to talk to healthy people as it is to ill people. Your cooperation may be needed even if you are not ill.

USDA Offers Summer Food Safety Tips In Advance of Memorial Day Weekend

foodWarmer temperatures call for extra attention to food safety when cooking and eating outdoors.

WASHINGTON, May 20, 2015 – Memorial Day weekend marks the unofficial start to summer, and many Americans will celebrate with cookouts, camping, road trips and other activities that involve food. The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) is reminding families to take extra care not to let foodborne bacteria, which grows more quickly in hot weather, ruin the fun.

“This Memorial Day weekend and all summer long, I encourage families to get outside and enjoy our natural resources, national parks and forests, and the variety of food America’s farmers are able to provide,” said Agriculture Secretary Vilsack. “It’s important to remember that bacteria grow faster in the same warm temperatures that people enjoy, so extra care needs to be taken to prevent food poisoning when preparing meals away from home. USDA reminds everyone to use a food thermometer, and take advantage of resources like our FoodKeeper app to help with any food handling questions.”

Last month, USDA launched its FoodKeeper mobile app, which contains specific guidance on more than 400 food and beverage items, including safe cooking recommendations for meat, poultry and seafood products.

The app provides information on how to store food and beverages to maximize their freshness and quality. This will help keep products fresh longer than if they were stored improperly, which can happen more often during hot summer days. The application is available for free on Android and Apple devices.

Due to a variety of factors, including warmer temperatures, foodborne illness increases in summer. To help Americans stay healthy and safe, USDA offers the following food safety recommendations.

Bringing food to a picnic or cookout:
• Use an insulated cooler filled with ice or frozen gel packs. Frozen food can also be used as a cold source.
• Foods that need to be kept cold include raw meat, poultry, and seafood; deli and luncheon meats or sandwiches; summer salads (tuna, chicken, egg, pasta, or seafood); cut up fruit and vegetables; and perishable dairy products.
• A full cooler will maintain its cold temperature longer than a partially filled one. When using a cooler, keep it out of the direct sun by placing it in the shade or shelter.
• Avoid opening the cooler repeatedly so that your food stays colder longer.
Cooking on the grill:
• Use separate cutting boards and utensils for raw meat and ready-to-eat items like vegetables or bread.
• Keep perishable food cold until it is ready to cook.
• Use a food thermometer to make sure meat and poultry are cooked thoroughly to their safe minimum internal temperatures
• Beef, Pork, Lamb, & Veal (steaks, roasts, and chops): 145 °F with a 3 minute rest time
• Ground meats: 160 °F
• Whole poultry, poultry breasts, & ground poultry: 165 °F
• Always use a fresh, clean plate and tongs for serving cooked food. Never reuse items that touched raw meat or poultry to serve the food once it is cooked.
Serving food outdoors:
• Perishable food should not sit out for more than two hours. In hot weather (above 90 °F), food should NEVER sit out for more than one hour.
• Serve cold food in small portions, and keep the rest in the cooler. After cooking meat and poultry on the grill, keep it hot until served – at 140 °F or warmer.
• Keep hot food hot by setting it to the side of the grill rack, not directly over the coals where they could overcook.


Holiday Food Safety Tips from the USDA


The U.S. Dept. of Agriculture Offers the Following Food Safety Tips for the Holiday.

  • Wash hands with warm water and soap for 20 seconds before and after handling any food. Wash food-contact surfaces (cutting boards, dishes, utensils, counter tops) with hot, soapy water after preparing each food item. Rinse fruits and vegetables thoroughly under cool running water and use a produce brush to remove surface dirt.
  • Do not rinse raw meat and poultry before cooking in order to avoid spreading bacteria to areas around the sink and counter tops.
  • When shopping in the store, storing food in the refrigerator at home, or preparing meals, keep foods that won’t be cooked separate from raw eggs, meat, poultry or seafood—and from kitchen utensils used for those products.
  • Consider using one cutting board only for foods that will be cooked (such as raw meat, poultry, and seafood) and another one for those that will not (such as raw fruits and vegetables).
  • Do not put cooked meat or other food that is ready to eat on an unwashed plate that has held any raw eggs, meat, poultry, seafood, or their juices.
  • Use a food thermometer to make sure meat, poultry, and fish are cooked to a safe internal temperature. To check a turkey for safety, insert a food thermometer into the innermost part of the thigh and wing and the thickest part of the breast. The turkey is safe when the temperature reaches 165°F. If the turkey is stuffed, the temperature of the stuffing should be 165°F.

  • Bring sauces, soups, and gravies to a rolling boil when reheating.
  • Cook eggs until the yolk and white are firm. When making your own eggnog or other recipe calling for raw eggs, use pasteurized shell eggs, liquid or frozen pasteurized egg products, or powdered egg whites.
  • Don’t eat uncooked cookie dough, which may contain raw eggs.
  • Refrigerate leftovers and takeout foods—and any type of food that should be refrigerated, including pie—within two hours.
  • Set your refrigerator at or below 40°F and the freezer at 0°F. Check both periodically with an appliance thermometer.
  • Thaw frozen food safely in the refrigerator, under cold running water, or in the microwave—never at room temperature. Cook food thawed in cold water or in the microwave immediately.
  • Allow enough time to properly thaw food. For example, a 20-pound turkey needs four to five days to thaw completely in the refrigerator.
  • Don’t taste food that looks or smells questionable. When in doubt, throw it out.
  • Leftovers should be used within three to four days, unless frozen.

 Keep Your Family Safe From Food Poisoning…Check your steps at

Halloween Food Safety Tips

foodThe Partnership for Food Safety Education ( offers the following tips for preventing foodbourne bacteria this Halloween:

  • Keep all perishable food chilled until serving time. These include, for example, finger sandwiches, cheese platters, cut fruit or tossed salads, cold pasta dishes with meat, poultry, or seafood, and cream pies or cakes with whipped-cream and cream-cheese frosting. Cold temperatures help keep most bacteria from multiplying.
  • To keep store-bought party trays cold, fill lids with ice and place trays on top.  Similarly, keep salads and other perishable items in bowls cold by nesting them in larger bowls of ice.
  • Arrange food on several small platters. Refrigerate platters of food until it is time to serve, and rotate food platters within two hours.
  • Bacteria will creep up on you if you let platters of food sit out for too long.  Don’t leave perishable goodies out for more than two hours at room temperature (1 hour in temperatures above 90°F).

  • When whipping up Halloween treats, don’t taste dough and batters that contain uncooked eggs.
  • Beware of  unpasteurized juice or cider that can contain harmful bacteria such as E.coli O157:H7 and Salmonella. Serve only pasteurized products at your Halloween party.
  • Remind kids (and adults too!) to wash their hands before and after eating to help prevent foodborne illness.
  • Bobbing for Apples – Try a new spin on bobbing for apples. Cut out lots of apples from red construction paper.  Write activities for kids to do on each apple, such as “say ABCs” or “do 5 jumping jacks”. Place a paper clip on each apple and put them in a large basket. Tie a magnet to a string or create a fishing pole with a dowel rod, magnet and yarn.  Let the children take turn “bobbing” with their magnet and doing the activity written on their apple.
  •  Give children a fresh apple for participating in your food safe version of bobbing for apples.