Lunch box food safety

Media release

19 January 2009

As Australians return to work and school, the Food Safety Information Council today provided information to minimise the risk of getting food poisoning from your lunchbox.

Council Chairman, Dr Michael Eyles, said that, because of the economic downturn, more people were likely to pack their own and their children’s lunches.

‘Preparing lunches for your family is a great money saver but there are simple food safety rules need to be followed,’ Dr Eyles said.

‘Lunches can safely be prepared ahead of time provided they are kept in the fridge or frozen. Always practice scrupulous handwashing. Ensure food preparation surfaces, utensils, lunchboxes and reusable drink bottles are clean. Wash all fruits and vegetables thoroughly.

‘Lunches should be kept cool. Pack something cold such as a frozen juice box or water bottle with the lunch. Pack perishable foods such as cold meats, chicken or egg sandwiches between the cold items. Avoid using risky foods such as egg based mayonnaise, soft cheeses, etc.

‘If you take leftovers to microwave at work, make sure you divide your cooked leftovers into small lunch sized portions so they cool quickly and refrigerate or freeze as soon as they have stopped steaming. Put them in the fridge as soon as you get to work and reheat them until they are steaming hot all the way through. Use leftovers within two to three days. If in doubt throw it out!

‘A frozen drink will help to keep school lunches cool. Lunchboxes kept inside the school bag will keep cooler longer as long as the bag is away from heat sources such as direct sunlight. Warn children against sharing drink bottles. Sharing lunches is also not a good idea as it is difficult to know what allergies other children may have.

‘If working on construction sites, outdoors or other environments with limited access to refrigerators, pack food in insulated containers with frozen drinks or freezer bricks and place the container in a cool place between meal breaks.

‘If you do have access to a kitchen, set up a roster to ensure bench tops are clean and dish cloths, sponges, brushes and tea towels are clean and replaced regularly. Wash dirty dishes in hot soapy water or put in the dishwasher.

‘The fridge should be clean, uncrowded and be running at or below 5°C. Provide labels and a pen so people can label and date any food they put in the fridge.

‘Finally, if you or your child has food poisoning don’t go to work or school, and avoid handling food for others for 48 hours after symptoms such as vomiting and diarrhoea stop. If food poisoning symptoms persist, visit a doctor,’ Dr Eyles concluded

Food poisoning results, on average, in 120 deaths, 1.2 million visits to doctors, 300,000 prescriptions for antibiotics, and 2.1 million days of lost work each year. The estimated annual cost of food poisoning in Australia is $1.25 billion.

The Food Safety Information Council is Australia’s leading disseminator of consumer targeted food safety information. It is a non-profit entity supported by the Australian Department of Health and Ageing, state and territory health and food safety agencies, local government, and leading professional, industry and community organisations.