Keep it cool for school: lunch box food safety

Posted by Josette Dunn on 24th January 2011

With thousands of children across Australia preparing to head back to school, families are being urged to study up on lunch box food safety.

“The basic rule of thumb is to keep it cool for school in order to reduce the risk of food poisoning,” NSW Primary Industries Minister Steve Whan said.

The return to school coincides with some of the hottest months of the year and summer temperatures provide an ideal environment for bacteria to thrive.  The bacteria that cause food poisoning grow between 5 and 60 degrees Celsius, known as the temperature danger zone – but there are some simple tips to help keep your cool at school:

* Use insulated lunch boxes or cooler bags
* Keep a frozen drink or freezer brick inside the bag
* If you’re making lunches the night before, store them in the fridge until leaving for school
* Ask your kids to store their lunch in a cool, dark place like a locker, not in direct sunlight
* Consider the contents of the lunchbox, it is important to keep meat or chicken sandwiches within the safe temperature zone and ensure that ‘leftovers’ are still fresh and kept cool.

“It’s important to remember that school lunches may sit for hours before they are eaten and bacteria can quickly multiply as lunchboxes warm up,” Mr Whan said.

“There are plenty of lunch food options that don’t require cooling to keep safe such as whole, uncut fruit and vegetables, tinned meat or fish or crackers and hard cheese.

“Sandwich spreads like Vegemite or jams are also a good option as they don’t require cooling to keep safe.”

Minister Whan said practicing basic hygiene and good food preparation when making lunches would also help to keep the risk of food poisoning at bay.

The NSW Food Authority website lists some handy hints for safe school lunches as well as plenty of information about the golden rules of food safety: