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School Lunch Food Safety

Posted in Food Safety on August 28, 2019

School is back in session! Even though it has been a while since my kids were in school, I still remember hearing stories about the lunchroom. It will be quite a few years until my little girl will be battling lunch lines, and trying to figure out what the best food to eat is. I’m sure we all have fond memories of the lunchroom right? But did we every think about School Lunch Food Safety?

Today, I wanted us to talk about the lunchroom and food safety. Sure, there are supposed to be healthy foods prepared, choices given depending on diet, and an overall sense of safety in the school cafeteria; but is there? I’m not here to challenge the system; I just want us to be as informed as we possibly can.

Let’s take a look at what a healthy lunch should be, let you parents compare what your kids are eating at their school, and then take a look at some of the dangers surrounding cafeteria lunches.

There are certain life events you remember like they happened yesterday. One that stands out to me is sitting in the lunchroom, getting ready to eat my favorite meal of all time: hamburgers. I was young, probably in elementary school, but that is the only part of the memory I am fuzzy on. I opened my carton of milk and readied my burger by slathering ketchup in the bun. While doing this, I got a faint whiff of dill pickles but there were none on my plate. I didn’t think much of it until I grabbed my milk carton, brought it to my lips, and took a big gulp. You guessed it, the milk was sour and I spit it out all over my beautiful hamburger. To this day, I loathe dill pickles. Hamburgers are still my favorite food of all time but I cannot stomach them with pickles. I don’t remember anything else from that day but the foul taste from sour milk would stay with me always.

The trend in recent years has been to focus more on food safety and nutrition. As parents, we should be glad that our kids are getting a nutritious meal in the middle of the day. And while I believe school systems have a long way to go; things seem to be moving in a positive direction. Here are a few of those positive steps:

The National School Lunch Act was created in 1946 to promote food safety for students. Throughout the years, this Act has gone through many upgrades and seen resistance from the government but today is a thriving and powerful force for keeping students safe. Millions of dollars were appropriated to purchase equipment, National School Lunch Week was created, and in 2019 reported thousands of kids across the country are eating healthier.

Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010 set a policy from the USDA to include their child nutrition program and has made certain reforms possible to school lunch safety.

Food-Safe Schools Action Guide was created for nutrition directors in schools to help assess current food safety, use the actions sheets to get an overview of current and future plans, and has tips to make school food safety even better.

When our children are home, we need to teach and encourage them to practice food safety. Then, when they are at school they can carry these and make safe decisions of their own. I love the fact that food safety at home can translate to school. Here are a few tips to instill in our children so they can carry them anywhere they go:

Wash Your Hands

Think about all the places, objects, and people our children come in contact with every day while at school. Take that a step farther and each child in that class touches different things too so there are a lot of germs passed around.

The CDC has recommended using warm water and soap and washing for at least 20 seconds. This can also be done at school in the restrooms so there is no excuse.

Hand sanitizer is also a viable secondary way to prevent germs at school. Check with your local school to see if this is provided and if not that could be a great topic to discuss.

Keep Food Separate

While this applies more to raw and uncooked food repaired in the kitchen, the concept can be used in the cafeteria. When eating, teach your kids to keep their books, school supplies, and any extra clothing away from their food. Cross-contamination can happen if bacteria are on a book and touches food as well.

If your kids bring a lunch from home, make sure to pack everything in a separate container. This will also reduce the chances of bacteria getting on food.

Temperature Control

Unfortunately, at school this is out of your hands. The people responsible for preparing meals at school need to make sure food is cooked to the correct temperature.

Again, lunches from home should be prepared according to temperature recommendations. I have printed a copy of the chart and placed it on my refrigerator as a reminder.

Keep it Cool

Refrigerating leftovers is not an issue at school as most food is thrown away after lunch is over. The crossover here is when lunch is from home. Cold packs are small and keep food cold long after lunch is over.

If your child does not eat all of their lunch, make sure they know the difference between food they can eat later and food that needs to be thrown out.

When it comes to food safety, there are no shortcuts. The same principles that apply at home need to apply at school. As we learn and gather information together, I have made it a priority to share this with my family. While schools try to keep our kids as safe as possible, we need to do our part.

Be it school lunch or made from home lunch, take the time to keep our child safe with what they put into their bodies as well as what they put into their minds.

By: Dwight Spencer, Contributing Writer (Non-Lawyer)