The Partnership for Food Safety Education is an organization that develops and promotes effective education programs to reduce foodborne illness risk for consumers. The Partnership works with an active network of 13,000 health and food safety educators—called BAC Fighters—helping to make their work more visible, collaborative, and effective. IFIC spoke with Britany Saunier, President, and CEO of the Partnership for Food Safety Education, just in time for National Food Safety Education Month.
Why should food safety be top of mind in September?
Food safety should be top of mind every day! Foodborne illness can be very serious and is more than a bad night in the restroom. For some it can mean lifelong chronic health conditions like IBS, arthritis, and, even worse, death. September is National Food Safety Education Month, which allows us to bring more awareness to the importance of safe food-handling in good health.
Foodborne illnesses (FBI) tend to increase during the summer months due to the hot and humid weather. People can help prevent FBI during warmer months by making sure their fridge is maintaining a temperature of 40 degrees Fahrenheit or below, ensuring food is not left out for more than two hours (or for one hour if the temperature is above 90°F), and ensuring meat, poultry, eggs, and fish are cooked to a safe internal temperature.
September is also back-to-school season. What are some tips on how to pack lunches safely for kids and teens going back to school?
Great question, and together, the Partnership of experts and stakeholders have identified three practical tips for safely packing school lunches. They are as easy as 1: Wash; 2: Chill; and 3: Heat.
- WASH: When it’s time to handle food for your child’s lunch, remember to always keep your ingredients—and your hands— clean. Rinse fruits, vegetables, and other produce before using them, and wash your hands with warm water and soap for at least 20 seconds before and after handling food.
- CHILL: Insulated, soft-sided lunch totes are best for keeping perishable foods chilled. Two cold sources—such as a small frozen gel pack and a frozen juice box—should be packed with all perishable foods. And keep in mind that frozen gel packs will keep foods cold until lunchtime but are not recommended for all-day storage; you’ll need refrigeration at school (or non-perishable food) for additional safety if your child requires an at-school snack after lunch.
- HEAT: Keep hot foods hot by using an insulated bottle. Fill your insulated bottle with boiling water and let it stand for a few minutes. Empty the bottle and then fill it with your hot food—preferably, piping hot—and keep the bottle closed until lunchtime.
What about after-school snacks and dinner, sometimes made together with our kids?
The same principles apply, with some extra considerations:
- Wash all hands with soap and water for at least 20 seconds.
- Rinse fresh fruits and vegetables under running water, including those with skins and rinds that are not eaten.
- Wash cutting boards, dishes, utensils, and countertops with hot, soapy water after preparing each food item and before moving on to the next food.
- Keep raw meat, poultry, seafood, and eggs separate from cooked or ready-to-eat foods.
- When using the oven, stove, or sharp knives, an adult should always be present.
- Wait until food is thoroughly cooked before tasting it. Avoid eating raw batter or dough, licking fingers, or putting hands in mouths.
- Use a food thermometer to check that food is cooked to proper temperatures. Check out the Safe Minimum Temperature Chart.
- Refrigerate leftovers promptly at 40°F or below.
- Encourage kids to get involved! Check out our Inspiring Young Cooks Flyer for tips on getting started.
The Partnership has a task force called BAC Fighters. Who are they and what do they do?
BAC Fighters are community-based educators who work directly with, you guessed it, the community, helping to reduce their risk of foodborne illness. BAC Fighters work in settings like municipal (city and county) cooperative extensions, healthcare facilities, local public-health departments, and K-12 schools. They use our Partnership resources to give people actionable advice on how to handle food safely. BAC Fighters are trusted by their communities and work in all 50 states!
What are the top three common misconceptions around food safety that you’d like to clear up?
- We are often hearing that “freezing foods kills harmful bacteria that can cause food poisoning.” Unfortunately, that’s not completely accurate. Studies show that bacteria can actually survive freezing temperatures. Cooking food to a safe internal temperature using a food thermometer is the best and most thorough way to kill harmful bacteria.
- Other misconceptions surround fresh produce. Many believe that you don’t need to wash fresh produce if the skin or rind is removed. Once again, that’s not quite true. It is important to know that harmful bacteria can spread from the outside to the inside during cutting or peeling of produce.
- The idea that rinsing raw chicken with water will remove bacteria like Salmonella: The fact is that rinsing raw chicken does not remove bacteria. In fact, this practice can spread harmful foodborne bacteria around your sink, onto your countertops, and onto ready-to-eat foods. To kill harmful bacteria, poultry should be cooked until its internal temperature reaches 165°F on a digital food thermometer.
For more information on debunking food safety myths, check out the Partnership’s “Home Food Safety Mythbusters.”
This article was produced in partnership with Britanny Saunier, President, and CEO of the Partnership for Food Safety Education. The Partnership works nationwide to develop and promote effective education programs to reduce foodborne illness risk for consumers.