Foodborne illness can be in the bag

When people think about food safety they oftentimes know they should be concerned with washing their fruits and vegetables, refrigerating their leftover meals and cooking meat thoroughly in order to kill harmful bacteria and protect themselves from foodborne illnesses.

However, there are other aspects of food safety that people should be aware of including the proper cleaning of you and or your children’s reusable lunch bags. According to Doug Powell, former professor of food safety at the University of Guelph, reusable lunch bags make attractive breeding grounds for germs.

“The risk of illness is low, but it’s difficult to quantify,” he says. “Most foodborne illness goes unreported. What you want to do is get ahead of it and be preventative. That means cleaning thoroughly every day.”

According to a recent article, Salmonella, Listeria and E. coli are the top three types of bacteria that are seen in reusable lunch bags and can build up over time, becoming more and more resistant to cleaning and causing such symptoms such as vomiting, diarrhea, fever and chills.

Although not everyone who is exposed to these bacteria becomes sick, children ages five and under are at increased risk of illness because their immune systems are still developing. Powell suggests the following methods to keeping your reusable lunch bags safe from germs:

  • Store food in dishwasher-safe plastic or glass containers inside an insulated lunch bag, so the food never actually touches the lunch bag itself.
  • Remove the inner containers and clean them thoroughly, either by popping them in the dishwasher or washing them in the sink with hot, soapy water and a new or recently disinfected sponge.
  • Scrub the lunch bag of any traces of food using hot soapy water, rinse it thoroughly, and then let it dry completely. Some lunch bags are machine-washable.

In the article, food safety researcher Jessica Chen provides other food safety measures to keep in mind, including:

  • Choosing an insulated lunch bag or use an ice pack inside to help keep foods cool until lunchtime and thus not allowing harmful bacteria to grow.
  • Wash all produce thoroughly with water before packing in a lunch. Health Canada recommends washing not only ready-to-eat fruits and veggies, but those you’re planning on peeling as well.
  • Avoid the “germiest” offenders that are the most likely to carry bacteria. According to Powell, these include cantaloupe, raw sprouts and meats from the deli counter.


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