Back to school health safety basics

Tips for keeping your kids healthy as they return to school.

Back to school food safety tips from the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Food Safety and Inspection Service. Photo credit: USDA | MSU Extension
Back to school food safety tips from the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Food Safety and Inspection Service. Photo credit: USDA | MSU Extension

Summer is nearly over and in just one week, kids will be heading back to school. For you, that might mean packing a lunch for your child daily. Whether the lunch you pack is hot or cold, it is important that the food be handled and stored safely to prevent foodborne illness. Michigan State University Extension recommends following these tips to ensure a safe lunch for your kids:

  • If the lunch contains perishable food items (lunch meat, yogurt, cheese, eggs, mayonnaise, etc.), make sure to pack it with at least two cold sources.
  • Freezing a water bottle or juice box can act as a cold source. By the time lunch comes around, they should be thawed enough to drink.
  • If packing a cold lunch the night before, make sure the entire pack is refrigerated overnight.
  • Thoroughly wash fresh fruits and vegetables with cool, running water before putting them in the lunch box.
  • For hot lunches, use insulated vessels to keep food piping hot until eaten. Preheat the vessels with boiling water before filling with the hot food item.
  • After lunch or school, discard all leftover food items and packaging. Never reuse packaging as it may contain bacteria that can spread to other foods.
  • Clean and sanitize your child’s lunchbox at least once a week. Leftover crumbs and other food debris can harbor dangerous bacteria that will grow over time and potentially make people sick. Wash with soap and warm water, rinse, and then sanitize with a 10 percent bleach solution and allow it to air dry.

Another essential part of a safe lunch for your kids is ensuring proper hand-washing before eating. Although you aren’t with your kids when they are at school, you can take the opportunity to remind them of proper hand-washing before the year starts. Make sure they wash with soap and warm water for at least 20 seconds and dry their hands with paper towels.

One last tip to preventing the spread of foodborne illness is to not share drinks with others. Kids are prone to offer tastes of their soda or juice to others, but this is a great way for disease to spread person-to-person. Let your child know that this is not ok. Personalizing their water bottles or drink containers may help prevent accidental sharing as well.

A final safety reminder is to never send your child to school sick. If a child is experiencing a fever, vomiting, diarrhea, or jaundice (yellowing of skin and eyes), this could be the sign of a serious foodborne illness. Children should stay home for a minimum of 24 hours after their last symptom.

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