Leftovers trend sparks warning

Aussies are increasingly eating leftovers for lunch – but there are risks, warns the Food Safety Information Council

Food Safety Information Council research has found that 94% of households with children pack school lunches and four out of five adults take packed lunches to work… and more are using leftovers.

“With the growing interest in cutting down on food waste, taking leftovers for lunch is a great idea as it is cost effective and healthier than buying take away,” says Council Chair Rachelle Williams.

“But we must remember that they can be a risky food and, if they need heating up, they need to be reheated to 75°C in the centre of the food.

“There are an estimated 4.1 million cases of food poisoning in Australia each year so we need to be extra careful when taking food to lunch or school to make sure the food is handled safely to prevent bacteria from growing.”

She offered six lunchbox food safety tips for those heading back to school or the office:

  1. When buying lunchboxes choose products that have room for a frozen drink or freezer block and are easy to clean and dry.
  2. Always wash and dry your hands thoroughly before preparing food and wash all fruits and vegetables thoroughly.
  3. Make sure lunchbox foods are always well separated from other foods in the refrigerator, particularly raw meats, chicken, eggs in their shells and fish.
  4. Keep the lunch cool in the fridge until you are ready to leave home, put an ice brick in it and refrigerate as soon as you get to work (or in a cooler with ice bricks if you work outside). Discard any higher risk foods such as sushi, meat, poultry or eggs if not eaten that day.
  5. Your child’s lunchbox will keep a safe temperature until lunchtime at school as long as it has a frozen drink or ice brick in it. During this hot weather you may want to consider providing safer lunchbox alternatives such as hard or processed cheese, canned tuna or sandwich spreads.
  6. If your leftovers need reheating they must reach 75°C in the centre of the food so either use a meat thermometer to check or use the automatic reheat function in the work microwave and follow any prompts to stir the food or let it stand for a time after reheating.

The Council cited NSW Food Authority data which compared a range of lunch box options to find out just how warm food can get during the day.

They used lunchboxes with and without a frozen drink or ice brick, as well as putting some sandwiches into a brown paper bag.

The researchers found the sandwiches in the brown paper bag were up to 12 degrees warmer by lunchtime than the sandwiches in the lunchbox with a frozen drink. The lunchbox with an ice block also did well, but lunchboxes without a frozen drink or ice block were not a lot cooler than the paper bag.

Sandwiches in the paper bag and lunch box alone contained significantly more bacteria by lunchtime than those cooled with a frozen drink or ice block.

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