Hamad Medical Corporation’s (HMC) , Director of Dietetics and Nutrition, Reem Al Saadi (pictured), has reminded parents and caregivers who send their children to school with a packed lunch about the importance of food safety and the risk of foodborne illnesses.
“Children are among the most vulnerable to food poisoning as their immune systems are not as effective at fighting off bacteria and viruses. If your child brings a packed lunch to school, there are several ways to help ensure their lunch is both healthy and safe,” said Al Saadi.
Al Saadi said that it’s important to remember that cold foods need to stay cold and hot foods need to stay hot. She notes that keeping food containers closed until lunchtime will help keep foods cold and help prevent bacterial contamination and growth. She recommends packing two cold sources, such as freezer packs or frozen water bottles, with perishable foods that need to stay cool.
“It is essential to keep lunches that contain perishable food items like luncheon meats, eggs, labneh, cheese, or yogurt cold to avoid the development of harmful bacteria that could cause foodborne illness,” said Al Saadi.
“Pack your child’s lunch in an insulated lunch bag and use frozen gel packs and frozen juice boxes or bottles of water to keep the food out of the ‘danger zone’, which is when a food’s temperature reaches between 5 and 63 °C (41 to 145 °F) and when bacteria grow most rapidly,” added Al Saadi.
If you pack your child’s lunch the night before school, Al Saadi recommends leaving it in the refrigerator overnight. She added that it is not advised to send hot foods like soup, salona (stew), or other heated food items in your child’s lunch, noting it is difficult to keep hot foods outside the ‘danger zone’.
“If possible, your child’s lunch should be stored in a refrigerator or cooler with ice upon arrival at their school. After lunch, make sure your child gets into the routine of discarding any leftover food, used food packaging, and paper bags. Don’t reuse packaging because it could contaminate other food and cause foodborne illness,” said Al Saadi.
Al Saadi said lunch boxes or bags should be cleaned with hot soapy water after each use and she recommends packing disposable wipes for children to clean their hands.
She said it is important to provide children with healthy, balanced lunches that include whole grains, fruits, vegetables, lean proteins, and low-fat dairy products. She also recommends preparing snack-sized bags of fruits and veggies and involving children in preparing their lunches.
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