Shopping list

USDA: Add these food safety items to the back-to-school shopping list

WASHINGTON — On your next back-to-school shopping trip, be sure to include food safety items on your shopping list to keep school lunches safe.

“Parents are focused on the health and safety of their children every day, and that goal includes how they prepare and pack lunches,” said Sandra Eskin, deputy assistant secretary for food safety at the U.S. Department of Health. Agriculture. “Because children are especially at risk for serious foodborne illnesses, food safety should be at the top of the list when packing lunches for school and school outings.”

Consider the following for your shopping list:

Clean and sanitize surfaces and utensils: Clean your prep area before you start that school lunch. A recent USDA study showed that cross-contamination is prevalent in the kitchen during food preparation. Therefore, be sure to wash your cutting boards, dishes, utensils and counters with soap and after preparing each food and before moving on to the next food. A homemade bleach solution of one tablespoon of unscented liquid bleach to one gallon of water can be used to sanitize kitchen surfaces and utensils.

Different colored cutting boards: Separate meat and poultry from ready-to-eat foods (such as fruits, vegetables, cheeses, etc.) to avoid cross-contamination during food preparation.

Food thermometers for food preparation: If you’re cooking frozen food for your child’s lunch, use a food thermometer to check if a meal has reached a safe temperature to kill harmful bacteria. Caution: Some frozen foods are not fully cooked or ready to eat, but have browned breading, grill marks, or other signs that suggest they are done. Make sure they are cooked to a safe internal temperature: meat (whole beef, pork and lamb) 145 F with a 3 minute rest; minced meat 160 F; poultry (ground and whole) 165 degrees; eggs 160 F; fish and shellfish 145 F; and leftovers and stews 165 F.

Insulated lunch boxes and gel packs: Perishable foods can be dangerous to eat at lunchtime if packed in a paper bag. Keep your meal cool by storing it in an insulated bag. Place a frozen gel pack, combined with a frozen juice box or bottle of water to keep food cool and avoid the “danger zone” (temperatures between 40 F and 140 F where bacteria can multiply rapidly and cause diseases).

Insulated containers: If hot liquids like soup, chili or stew are on the menu, use an insulated container to keep foods hot at 140 F and above. Fill the container with boiling water, let it stand for a few minutes, empty it, then pour the hot food into it. Keep the insulated container closed until lunchtime.

Hand washing aids: hand wipes and 60% alcohol-based hand sanitizers are ideal for children to clean their hands before eating when soap and water are not available.

Learn more about the USDA’s Four Steps to Food Safety and get your food safety questions answered by calling the USDA Meat and Poultry Hotline at 888-674-6854, emailing MPHotline or via live chat at 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Eastern Time, Monday through Friday.

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