When my little girl started school a couple of weeks ago, I was faced with the question that a lot of mothers have to ask themselves every school day – What am I going to pack her for lunch? The food has to be things that she likes, but it also has to be safe.
According to the USDA, Food brought from home can be kept safe if it is first handled and cooked safely. Then perishable food must be kept cold while commuting, after arriving to school and until lunchtime.
Why keep food cold? Harmful bacteria multiply rapidly in the “Danger Zone” – the temperatures between 40 – 140 degrees F. So, perishable food transported without an ice source won’t stay safe long. Here are safe handling recommendations to prevent foodborn illness from “bag” lunches.
• Food should not be left out at room temperature more than 2 hours (1 hour if the temperature is above 90 degrees F)
• Prepackaged combos that contain luncheon meats along with crackers, cheese, and condiments must also be kept refrigerated. This includes luncheon meats and smoked ham which are cured or contain preservatives.
• At lunchtime, discard all used food packaging and paper bags. Do not reuse packaging because it could contaminate other food and cause foodborne illness.
• Pack just the amount of perishable food that can be eaten at lunch. That way, there won’t be a problem about the storage or safety of leftovers.
• It’s fine to prepare the food the night before and store the packed lunch in the refrigerator. Freezing sandwiches helps them stay cold. However, for best quality, don’t freeze sandwiches containing mayonnaise, lettuce, or tomatoes. Add those later.
• Insulated, soft-sided lunch boxes or bags are best for keeping food cold, but metal or plastic lunch boxes and paper bags can also be used. If using paper lunch bags, create layers by double bagging to help insulate the food. An ice source should be packed with perishable food in any type of lunch bag or box.
• To keep lunches cold away from home, include a small frozen gel pack or frozen juice box. Of course, if there’s a refrigerator available, store perishable items there upon arrival.
• Some food is safe without a cold source. Items that don’t require refrigeration include whole fruits and vegetables, hard cheese, canned meat and fish, chips, breads, crackers, peanut butter, jelly, mustard, and pickles.
• Use an insulated container to keep food like soup, chili, and stew hot. Fill the container with boiling water, let stand for a few minutes, empty, and then put in the piping hot food. Keep the insulated container closed until lunchtime to keep the food hot – 140 degrees F or above.
• When using the microwave oven to reheat lunches, cover food to hold in moisture and promote safe, even heating. Reheat leftovers to at least 165 degrees F. Food should be steaming hot. Cook frozen convenience meals according to package instructions.
Article Source: www.fsis.usda.gov/Fact_Sheets/keeping_Bag_Lunches_Safe 
Recipe of the Week
By Pamela Redwine
Soft Chicken Tacos
1 teaspoon chili powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1 pound skinless, boneless chicken thighs
12 (6-inch) white corn tortillas
1 1/2 cups thinly sliced green cabbage
1/4 cup (1 ounce) shredded reduced-fat Monterey Jack cheese
Low-fat sour cream (optional)
Combine first 4 ingredients in a small bowl; rub spice mixture over chicken.
Place chicken on grill rack coated with cooking spray; grill 10 minutes on each side or until done. Let stand 5 minutes; chop.
Heat tortillas according to package directions. Divide chicken evenly among tortillas; top each tortilla with 2 tablespoons cabbage and 1 teaspoon cheese. Serve with sour cream, if desired.
Calories: 329 (34% from fat); Fat: 12.5g (sat 3.5g,mono 3.5g,poly 2.9g) ; Protein: 27.4g; Carbohydrate: 29.4g; Fiber: 3.9g; Cholesterol: 86mg; Iron: 1.5mg; Sodium: 466mg; Calcium: 109mg
Recipe Source: Cooking Light 2006