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

Myths about Keeping Food Safe in the Refrigerator


September is National Food Safety Education Month. The Partnership for Food Safety Education, U.S. Department of Agriculture, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and Food and Drug Administration want consumers to know that some beliefs people have about keeping food safe in the refrigerator aren’t true.

Myth 1: I know my refrigerator is cold enough – I can feel it when I open it! Anyway, I have a dial to adjust the temperature.

Fact:  Unless you have thermometers built into your fingers, you need to use a thermometer to ensure your refrigerator is at or below 40 °F.  And that dial? Important, but it is not a thermometer.

As many as 43% of home refrigerators have been found to be at temperatures above 40 °F, putting them in the food safety “danger zone” where harmful bacteria can multiply and make you and your family sick!

Slow the growth of bacteria by using a refrigerator thermometer to tell if your refrigerator is at 40 °F or below. And if it isn’t?  Use that dial to adjust the temperature so it will be colder. Then, use your refrigerator thermometer to measure again.

Myth 2:  Cross-contamination doesn’t happen in the refrigerator – it’s too cold in there for germs to survive!

Fact:  Bacteria can survive and some even grow in cool, moist environments like the refrigerator.

In fact, Listeria bacteria can grow at temperatures below 40 °F! A recent study showed the refrigerator produce compartment was one of the “germiest” places in the kitchen, containing Salmonella and Listeria.

To reduce the risk of cross-contamination in your refrigerator:

  • Keep fresh fruits and vegetables separate from raw meat, poultry, seafood, and eggs
  • Clean up food and beverage spills immediately, and
  • Clean your refrigerator regularly with hot water and liquid soap.  Don’t forget to clean the refrigerator walls and undersides of shelves!

Myth 3: I left some food out all day, but if I put it in the refrigerator  now, the bacteria will die.

Fact:   Refrigerator temperatures can slow the growth of bacteria, but will not stop the growth of bacteria in food. 

If food is left out at room temperature for more than two hours, putting it into the refrigerator will only slow bacterial growth, not kill it. Protect your family by following the 2-hour rule—refrigerate or freeze meat, poultry, seafood, eggs, cut fresh fruits and vegetables, and all cooked leftovers within 2 hours of cooking or purchasing. Refrigerate within 1 hour if the temperature is above 90 ºF.

While refrigeration does slow bacterial growth, most perishables will only keep for a few days in the refrigerator. To keep perishables longer than a few days—like most meat, poultry and seafood—you can freeze them.

Myth 4:  I don’t need to clean my refrigerator produce bin because I only put fruit and vegetables in there.

FACT:   Naturally occurring bacteria in fresh fruits and vegetables can cause cross-contamination in your refrigerator.

A recent NSF International study found that the refrigerator produce compartment was the #1 “germiest” area in consumers’ kitchens!  To prevent the buildup of bacteria that can cause food poisoning, it is essential to clean your produce bin and other bins in your refrigerator often with hot water and liquid soap, rinse thoroughly, and dry with a clean cloth towel or allow to air dry outside of the refrigerator.

For more myths and facts about food safety, go to:


Thanksgiving Food Safety Tips

The Partnership for Food Safety Education shares the following links to information on Thanksgiving safety tips.


Click to enlarge the Infographics below





The FDA Ensures Foods from Animals Are Safe


In case you were wondering, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) wants you to know that it ensures foods from animals are safe.

If you eat meat or drink milk, you want to know: Are there trace amounts of the veterinary drugs used in food-producing animals entering your diet? And if they are, are the amounts safe for human consumption?

Those questions—among others—are the concern of the Division of Residue Chemistry, which is part of FDA’s Center for Veterinary Medicine.

Sick food-producing animals such as pigs, cows, and chickens can be given antibiotics or other drugs to treat diseases. (Some farms also give animals antibiotics to help them grow faster, a practice FDA is working to eliminate by promoting the judicious use of antimicrobials in food-producing animals.) Producers must then wait for the drug to leave the animal’s system before they can slaughter it for consumption. It’s important to ensure that any remaining trace amounts of the drugs are safe to eat by the time the food reaches our plates.

“Our job is twofold,” says Division Director Philip Kijak, Ph.D. “We validate the methods drug companies use to test for drug trace amounts in foods from animals, and we help develop newer and better methods for testing.”

On the first point, the sponsor—usually, the animal pharmaceuticals company—of a drug to be used in a food animal must complete required testing that establishes the drug’s tolerance (a measure of safety), and develop a method to show whether the trace amount in the animal food product is within that tolerance.

“Then we are responsible for validating that method—making sure not only that it works and is accurate, but that it’s a practical method any standard chemical laboratory can use,” Kijak says.

Making Sure Milk Is Safe

For example, the Division examines the methods used to test milk for trace amounts of veterinary drugs used in dairy cows.

Under the Grade “A” Pasteurized Milk Ordinance standards issued by the FDA and the U.S. Public Health Service, all milk must be tested for beta-lactam antibiotics, the most common drugs used by dairy farms. FDA’s role is to evaluate Animalsand approve the data and methods submitted by companies that manufacture rapid-screening tests for these drugs. Rapid screening is important because milk is perishable, and results are needed on the spot.

“Think of these as off-the-shelf kits, like those consumers buy for pregnancy testing,” Kijak says. It’s up to the individual dairies and state regulators to choose the approved kits they want to use. Since 1994, when FDA began evaluating test-kits, the amount of milk containing beta-lactam drugs has dropped from 0.15 percent to 0.014 percent—more than a tenfold decrease, Kijak adds.

Developing Methods to Test Meat

In addition, FDA works with the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Food Safety and Inspection Service (USDA’s FSIS) and state regulators to monitor meat, poultry, eggs, and milk for trace amounts of unapproved or unsafe drugs. FSIS tests the foods for a variety of these medications and reports violations to FDA, which follows up with regulatory action when needed.

“To do this job, we had to focus on developing new methods to detect trace amounts of penicillin and other antibiotics,” Kijak says. “With the older method, we were able to tell if penicillin or penicillin and other drugs were present, but we were unable to measure the exact amount of the penicillin when the sample contained more than one drug.” Without this specific information, it was possible for products with unsafe amounts of penicillin to pass inspection. The newer method, which was developed in close cooperation with USDA, enables inspectors to determine if multiple drugs are present, and the amount of each.

Testing for Fungus in Animal Feeds

Recently, the division has become increasingly involved in developing methods to detect mycotoxins and other contaminants in animal feeds. Mycotoxins are toxic compounds made by fungi that grow on grains. Poor growing methods and improper storage conditions can promote the development of these compounds, which that can enter our diets in meat from animals that consumed the contaminated feed.

“While these fungi are almost always present in grain, it’s the amount of mycotoxins that can make the difference between safe and unsafe foods from animals,” Kijak explains. “The new methods enable us to take whatever steps are necessary to make sure the tested products are safe for consumers.”

This article appears on FDA’s Consumer Updates page, which features the latest on all FDA-regulated products.

November 3, 2014

Chicken Safety Tips from the USDA

chickenGiven that chicken can be prepared so many ways, and is very economical, it is not surprising that it is America’s most popular poultry.

The United States Department of Agriculture’s Food Safety and Inspection Service offers the following information about buying, storing, preparing and serving chicken:es

* It is not necessary to rinse or soak raw chicken to clean it before cooking. Any bacteria which might be present are destroyed by cooking. Rinsing chicken in the sink might cross-contaminate or spread bacteria throughout the kitchen.

*Fresh or raw chicken should be selected just before checking out of the grocery store. It should feel cold to the touch when purchased. Put chicken packages in disposable plastic bags (if available) to contain any leaking juices which may cross-contaminate cooked foods or produce. Go right home after food shopping and immediately put the chicken in the refrigerator if you plan to use it within 1-2 days. If you won’t be using the chicken by day 2, freeze it.

*You don’t have to have to re-wrap chicken for freezing. It can be frozen in either its original wrapping or repackaged if you want. If freezing for longer than 2 months, for best quality, you may want to place in a freezer bag or over-wrap with heavy-duty foil, plastic wrap or freezer paper. Either way, once it’s frozen, chicken, and all other raw meats and poultry, are safe indefinitely in the freezer.

*When purchasing cooked chicken, make sure it’s hot upon purchase. Use it within 2 hours or cut it up into several pieces and refrigerate in shallow, covered containers. You can eat the leftovers within 3-4 days, either cold or reheated to 165 °F, or freeze it. Again, once frozen, the cooked chicken is safe indefinitely in the freezer. For best quality, use within 3-4 months.

*Color is not a good way to determine if cooked chicken is safe to eat. Only by using a food thermometer can you make sure chicken has reached the safe minimum internal temperature of 165 °F. When cooking a whole chicken, you should check the internal temperature in the innermost part of the thigh, the wing and the thickest part of the breast. And remember, all chicken should be put in the refrigerator within 2 hours of cooking (1 hour when the temperature is above 90 °F).