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.
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
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.
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
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
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
“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.
pants and long-sleeve shirts that cover exposed skin. In warmer
weather, wear lightweight, loose-fitting clothing that covers exposed
- Use screens or close windows and doors to keep mosquitoes out of your home.
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.