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D.iet & H.ealth : C.hildren & W.omen Last Updated: Nov 12th, 2006 - 20:38:00

USDA Gives Tips for Keeping Kids' Food Safe All Day
Aug 18, 2006, 23:54

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Susan Conley (301) 344-4755
Matt Baun (301) 344-4743

WASHINGTON, Aug. 18, 2006 - From the morning off-to-school rush until the kids come home after the bell sounds, knowing how to keep food safe is an important first lesson to learn during the new school year. By heeding USDA's key back-to-school food safety messages, parents and kids will know how to avoid the risk of foodborne illness.

"Parents and children need to know the dangers of foodborne illness," said USDA Under Secretary for Food Safety Dr. Richard Raymond. "Packing lunches to take to school and after school snacking are vulnerable to the top two causes of foodborne illness: not keeping perishable food cold and not cooking or re-heating food to a high enough temperature to destroy any germs that may be present."

Dr. Raymond, a family physician, noted that the Danger Zone — temperatures between 40°F and 140°F — creates an environment in which harmful bacteria can multiply rapidly. Food should not be left out at room temperature for more than two hours. Raymond also noted that children are more likely than healthy adults to be victims of foodborne illness.

Food Safety and "Bag" Lunches

To help parents and children combat foodborne illness, USDA is providing the following tips to ensure the safety of "bag" lunches:

* Washing hands is one of the most common ways to stop bacteria from spreading. The first step to good food safety is to wash your hands with soap and warm water for 20 seconds before lunches are prepared or eaten.

* It is important to wash cutting boards, dishes, utensils, and countertops with hot, soapy water after preparing each food item.

* Perishable foods like prepackaged lunch combinations that include luncheon meats with crackers, cheese and condiments should be kept cold by using freezer gel packs or a frozen juice carton. Insulated, soft-sided lunch boxes or bags are best for keeping food cold, but metal or plastic lunch boxes and paper bags can also be used. If using paper lunch bags, create layers by double bagging to help insulate the food.

* For foods such as chili, soups and stew, use an insulated container. Parents should fill the container with boiling water, let stand for a few minutes, empty, and then put in the piping hot food. Keep the container closed until lunchtime so the food remains hot.

* Pack only the amount of perishable food that will be eaten at lunch. That way, there won't be a problem about keeping leftovers safe. Preparing the food the night before and storing it in the refrigerator and packing the lunch in the morning can help keep the food cold longer.

* Cross-contamination can occur by reusing packaging materials such as paper or plastic bags, food wraps and aluminum foil. At lunchtime, discard all used food packaging and paper bags; they might contaminate other food and cause foodborne illness. Also, discard perishable leftovers unless they can be safely chilled immediately after lunch and upon returning home.

Food Safety and After School Snacking

Older children may be home alone for an hour or two after school, these tips will help make sure after school snacks and meals are safe from foodborne bacteria:

* If children are old enough to use a microwave oven to reheat foods, teach them how to use a food thermometer to check for safety. When reheating leftovers, heat to 165°F.

* Foods and liquids are heated unevenly in the microwave oven, so stir or rotate food midway through cooking. If you don't, then you'll have cold spots where harmful bacteria can survive.

* Be sure to cover food with a lid or plastic wrap when reheating in a microwave oven. Wrap loosely to let steam escape. The moist heat will help heat the food evenly and destroy harmful bacteria.

* To prevent burns, carefully remove food from the microwave oven.

* Do not use plastic containers such a margarine tubs or other one-time use containers in the microwave. They can warp or melt, possibly causing harmful chemicals to get in the food.

* When reheating ready-to-eat foods, such as hot dogs, heat to 165°F or until steaming. Be sure to pierce hot dogs with a fork before putting them into the microwave oven to keep them from exploding.

* Pizza should never be eaten if it has been sitting out longer than two hours. This is true whether pizza is topped with meat or vegetables. The rule of thumb for pizza and other perishable food is to discard it if it has been left in the Danger Zone for more than two hours.

* Never taste a food to determine whether it is safe.

* If you are not sure how long perishable food has been left out, throw it away. When it doubt, throw it out!

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