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Back-To-School Food Safety Tips for Parents and Caregivers
Aug 23 2016 - 04:59:00 pm
Back to school, back to the books, back in the saddle, or back in the car for those of us shuttling students to and from school. The new school year means its back to packing lunches and after school snacks for students, scouts, athletes, dancers, and all the other children who carry these items to and from home. One ‘back’ you do not want to reacquaint children with, however, is foodborne bacteria.

Bacteria that can cause foodborne illness, commonly known as food poisoning, grow rapidly at temperatures between 40 and 140 degrees Fahrenheit. In just two hours, these microorganisms can multiply to dangerous levels. To make sure lunches and snacks are safe for those you pack for, follow the USDA’s four steps to food safety: Clean – Separate – Cook – and Chill.

Packing Tips

  • If the lunch/snack contains perishable food items like luncheon meats, eggs, cheese, or yogurt, make sure to pack it with at least two cold sources. Harmful bacteria multiply rapidly so perishable food transported without an ice source won't stay safe long.
  • Frozen juice boxes or water can also be used as freezer packs. Freeze these items overnight and use with at least one other freezer pack. By lunchtime, the liquids should be thawed and ready to drink.
  • Pack lunches containing perishable food in an insulated lunchbox or soft-sided lunch bag. Perishable food can be unsafe to eat by lunchtime if packed in a paper bag.
  • If packing a hot lunch, like soup, chili or stew, use an insulated container to keep it hot. Fill the container with boiling water, let stand for a few minutes, empty, and then put in the piping hot food. Tell children to keep the insulated container closed until lunchtime to keep the food hot - 140 °F or above.
  • If packing a child’s lunch the night before, parents should leave it in the refrigerator overnight. The meal will stay cold longer because everything will be refrigerator temperature when it is placed in the lunchbox.
  • If you’re responsible for packing snacks for the team, troop, or group, keep perishable foods in a cooler with ice or cold packs until snack time. Pack snacks in individual bags or containers, rather than having children share food from one serving dish.

Storage Tips

  • If possible, a child’s lunch should be stored in a refrigerator or cooler with ice upon arrival. Leave the lid of the lunchbox or bag open in the fridge so that cold air can better circulate and keep the food cold.

Eating and Disposal Tips

  • Pack disposable wipes for washing hands before and after eating.
  • After lunch, discard all leftover food, used food packaging, and paper bags. Do not reuse packaging because it could contaminate other food and cause foodborne illness.

Consumers can learn more about key food safety practices at Foodsafety.gov
Texas on alert for local Zika, urges precautions
Aug 03 2016 - 07:06:00 pm
With local Zika cases detected in Florida and increased travel to Brazil for the Summer Olympics, Texas is on high alert for local Zika transmission by mosquito bites and is urging everyone to strictly follow precautions.

“It’s the perfect mix – local transmission in Florida, travel to Brazil, and we’re at the height of mosquito season in Texas,” said Dr. John Hellerstedt, Texas Department of State Health Services commissioner. “Local transmission here is likely at some point. The good news is that Texas is ready.”

The Texas response plan is in effect. Texas has reported 93 cases of Zika virus disease – all related to travel abroad to areas with active Zika transmission. No local transmission through mosquito bite has been detected yet in Texas. State efforts have been underway since January to delay and minimize the impact of Zika on Texas.

“If Texas has local transmission, we’ll quickly announce it and describe the area of potential risk for Texans,” Dr. Hellerstedt said. “We’re working in lockstep with our local and federal partners to ensure a strong Texas response.”

DSHS is spending more than $6 million in state and federal funds on disease surveillance, expanded lab testing capabilities, public education and awareness, Zika prevention kits and other efforts to build a strong infrastructure to help protect Texans from Zika. Texas Medicaid announced today it will cover the cost of mosquito repellent for eligible women who are between the ages of 10 and 45 or pregnant.

DSHS has identified and exercised eight state public health Zika Response Teams that are ready to deploy if local transmission is detected in Texas. These scalable regional teams will be able to assist local entities with investigating possible cases, evaluating environments for mosquito activity, providing door-to-door education and other response efforts.

Last week, state health officials briefed Gov. Greg Abbott on the state’s response and preparations. Next week the Governor’s Task Force on Infectious Disease Preparedness and Response will meet again in Austin to discuss Zika and other issues.

“We’re doing everything we can, and people have the power to protect themselves,” Dr. Hellerstedt said. “Insect repellent and information are our best defense.”

To amplify precaution messages, DSHS has boosted its statewide Zika public outreach campaign, which now has an expanded budget and an additional emphasis on travelers. The website www.TexasZika.org launched in February and continues to be the anchor for the campaign and the source of official Texas public health information about Zika.

While local transmission in Texas remains likely at some point, public health officials do not expect widespread transmission across large geographic areas of the state. Small pockets of cases are more likely. This assessment is based on the state’s past experience with dengue, a similar virus spread by the same mosquitoes, and on the prevalent use of window screens, air conditioning, insect repellent and other mosquito control efforts in Texas.

DSHS has approved more than 1,200 human specimens for Zika virus testing by the DSHS laboratory and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Other labs across the state now have the ability to test for Zika. In late July, DSHS added the more complex serologic testing for human specimens to detect Zika infection in people who may not have had symptoms. Texas also has the capability to test mosquito specimens for Zika as warranted for identified high-risk areas, though the best indicator of Zika prevalence is human case detection.

Zika poses a serious threat to unborn children, and protecting pregnant women is a central concern. Texas has reported 42 individuals into the CDC’s Zika Pregnancy Registry. That number includes three pregnant women who are confirmed Zika cases. It also includes pregnant women and any newborns who have laboratory evidence of Zika infection but don’t qualify as Zika cases because they have had no symptoms or because the infection couldn’t specifically be identified as Zika virus. Texas provides data to the Zika Pregnancy Registry weekly. With local transmission in Florida and mosquito season in full force in Texas, state health officials urge everyone to follow precautions to protect themselves from mosquito bites:

  • Apply EPA-approved insect repellent.
  • Wear pants and long-sleeve shirts that cover exposed skin. In warmer weather, wear lightweight, loose-fitting clothing that covers exposed skin.
  • Use screens or close windows and doors to keep mosquitoes out of your home.
  • Remove standing water in and around the home. This includes water in cans, toys, tires, plant saucers, and any container that can hold water.
  • Cover trash cans or containers where water can collect.

To avoid infecting local mosquitoes, people who travel to areas with active Zika transmission should apply insect repellent every time they go outside for at least three weeks after they return to Texas – and longer if they develop an illness that could be Zika.
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