As students head back to school this week, South Australians are reminded to make sure school lunch boxes are prepared and stored safely to avoid cases of food poisoning in warmer weather.

The Department for Health and Wellbeing’s Manager of Food Standards Surveillance, Alessia Centofanti, said that foods stored in a warm lunch box or bag for several hours can reach temperatures above 5oC and allow potentially harmful bacteria to grow.

“Ninety-four per cent of households with children pack school lunches on a daily basis, so it is important that food is prepared and stored safely to avoid the risk of food poisoning,” Ms Centofanti said.

“Food poisoning can occur at any age with common symptoms including vomiting, diarrhoea, nausea and flu like symptoms that usually appear between 8 and 72 hours after eating the infected food.

“High risk foods that should be kept under temperature control include, cooked meat, poultry, seafood, cooked rice, milk and dairy products that require refrigeration (eg yoghurt, milk drinks, most cheeses), and some foods that come in packages can become high risk after opening.

“If lunches are prepared the night before it is a good idea to keep it refrigerated overnight and foods such as meat, poultry or eggs should be discarded if not consumed at lunchtime.

“Another important way to avoid food poisoning is to always wash and dry your hands thoroughly before preparing food and wash all fruits and vegetables to remove any visual dirt and grime.

“During warmer weather it is a good idea to consider providing safer lunchbox alternatives, such as hard or processed cheese, canned tuna or sandwich spreads and whole fruit.

“Always try to make healthier choices by including something from each of the five food groups; whole fruit and vegetables are a great healthy and safe option.”

Ms Centofanti said when buying lunchboxes, it is a good idea to choose one that has room for a frozen drink or freezer block which is easy to clean and dry, avoiding any contamination.

“A lunchbox with a frozen drink or ice brick will keep food at a safe temperature until lunchtime at school, however, some foods are more sensitive to heat and will grow dangerous bacteria quicker,” Ms Centofanti said.

“It is a good idea to pack each food item into separate containers and wrappers before packing in the lunch box, which will ensure it stays fresh and prevent cross contamination.

“We also encourage parents to teach children about the importance of food safety and get them involved in food preparation and shopping so they can better understand why food safety matters.”

There have been 889 confirmed cases of Salmonella in South Australia so far this year compared with 995 cases reported in the same period in 2018. For more information on food safety click here

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