MONDAY, Aug. 18, 2014 (HealthDay News) -- Keeping children's lunchboxes clean helps protect them from foodborne illness, an expert says.
That's because dirty lunchboxes may contain bacteria that can make youngsters sick, explained Natasha Haynes, a family and consumer sciences agent for Mississippi State University.
And parents may not be aware of how much grime their kid's lunchbox picks up in a day. "Kids don't always wash their hands before handling their lunchboxes and food. Since most lunches include finger foods, it's easy to see how germs and bacteria can make kids sick," she said in a university news release.
Along with keeping lunchboxes clean, parents should put a small bottle of antibacterial gel with a tight-fitting lid in children's lunchboxes. They can use the gel if they don't have a chance to wash their hands with soap and water before they eat lunch.
"Once in the cafeteria, kids should avoid setting down their food on the table," Haynes said. "Include a paper towel, a piece of wax paper, or even a small fabric placemat that can be washed at home to help children keep their food off surfaces that may have been used by multiple people."
It's also important to follow proper hygiene and food safety practices when packing lunches.
"No matter who prepares the food and packs the lunch, start with clean hands, a clean work surface and a clean lunchbox. If lunch containers are not washed daily, crumbs and spills can accumulate and result in a build-up of bacteria," Haynes said.
Disinfect kitchen surfaces, such as kitchen equipment and refrigerator handles, regularly. "Don't forget cutting boards, knives, dish-drying towels and sponges or dish cloths," she said.
It's also important to wash fruits and vegetables before packing them in a child's lunch, and to keep the lunch cold. If the school doesn't have a fridge, place an ice pack or frozen juice box in the lunchbox.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has more about food safety.