Food Safety On The Go
What you need to know about keeping food safe for you and the kids while you’re out and about.
Planning a picnic lunch, a few days’ worth of snacks, or just some munchies for an afternoon outing? There’s more to food packing than making sure it all fits in the car. When it comes to food — especially perishable items — here are some tips on how to keep it from all going bad.
Beware The "5 Second Rule"
While we’re familiar with this age-old saying — and the notion that a bit of dirt can help to build baby’s immune system — according to the United States Department of Agriculture Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS), it’s a rule that parents should skip. If Junior drops a cracker and it stays on the ground for even for less than five seconds, it’s not safe to eat. Period. And although a liberal dusting may remove visible dirt, there could be bacteria on the ground that would contaminate the food.
Keep Cold Foods Cold
Harmful bacteria can develop very quickly when temperatures are between 40°F and 140°F (also known as ‘The Danger Zone’). This is especially common when you’re traveling, and food is usually stored in a car, diaper bag, or a purse. A top- tip on the website of food safety expert Donna Rosenbaum, is to not eat meat, poultry, eggs, or sliced fresh fruit and vegetables that have been left out for more than two hours, or only one hour in temperatures more than 90°F.
Any perishable foods such as soft cheese, yogurt, eggs and lunch meat need to be kept cold, and are best transported in an insulated food box and with an ice source. FSIS recommends using two frozen gel packs (no smaller than 5 x 3 inches), or combine a frozen gel pack with a frozen juice box or frozen bottle of water. For the best balance of cold, put an ice pack at the bottom and at the top of the perishable food item.
Some foods like hard cheese, whole fruits and vegetables, canned meat and fish, pickles (anything fermented), peanut butter and jelly, are perfectly safe to travel without a cold pack.
Conduct Your Own Experiments
How long an ice pack works depends on a few factors: how hot the environment is where you’ve stored your food, and how much food is in the insulated bag. The FSIS recommends that food still needs to feel "refrigerator cold" for it to be safe. If the cold source has melted and food feels room temperature or warmer, it’s best to toss it. Rosenbaum agrees, saying that her household rule is, “If in doubt, throw it out!”
Stock Up on Dry Goods
While they may have less nutritional value than a yogurt or a tuna fish sandwich, chips, breads, crackers and cookies are all safer bets when it comes to on-the-go food picks. Many are available in mini or individual packages, and are usually more travel-friendly.
Keep Containers Clean
An improperly cleaned food container can also store harmful amounts of bacteria and cross-contaminate food. Be sure to sanitize all containers with hot, soapy water. FSIS warns that contaminated foods don’t look, smell or taste different, so you may not even know that you’ve eaten unsafe food until after eating the food in question. Of course, people have varying tolerances or immunity to unsafe food, but children are at greater risk, so it’s important to handle food safely.
Follow these simple tips and you and your family will be safe and be fed throughout your next adventure!