NASSAU, BAHAMAS — At the beginning of the academic year, parents, guardians, and students alike scramble to complete an extensive list of tasks in preparation for one of the busiest times in a child’s calendar.
However, amid the hustle and bustle of these Back To School preparations, one crucial aspect often gets overlooked—ensuring the safety of the food packed in a child’s lunch bag.
Bahamian Celebrity Chef and Restaurateur Simeon Hall Jr., who describes himself as a staunch advocate for enforcing food safety regulations, warns that “children are at the top of the at-risk section for foodborne illnesses.”
The restaurateur holds an active ServSafe Food Protection Manager Certification, and recommends that parents and guardians acquaint themselves with an important food safety acronym: FATTOM.
“Each letter represents a factor influencing the risk of foodborne illnesses, including food, acidity, time, temperature, oxygen, and moisture,” Hall explained.
Although each factor is equally crucial, Hall specifically pinpointed the three food safety culprits that directly result from the ongoing impacts of climate change and rising temperatures: Food, time and temperature.
He emphasized that proteins, such as poultry, beef, seafood, deli meats, and eggs, as well as carbohydrates like rice, fruits, vegetables, and leafy greens, are particularly susceptible to the growth of harmful bacteria. Hall stressed the importance for parents to exercise extreme caution when handling and consuming these foods.
“Foods low in acid are very prone to harmful bacteria; even our ancestors knew this. It’s the reason why ancestral Bahamians seasoned and cooked their food with so much lime, to prevent food poisoning,” Hall noted.
He stated that proteins, such as poultry, beef, seafood, deli meats, and eggs, as well as carbohydrates like rice, fruits, vegetables, and leafy greens, are particularly susceptible to the growth of harmful bacteria.
When it comes to time, according to Hall, once food is cooked or taken out of the refrigerator, it typically has a window of about four hours before it enters the “temperature danger zone,” which spans temperatures between 40 and 140 degrees Fahrenheit.
“The particular challenge with packed lunches,” Hall revealed, “lies in the extended duration food spends in a lunch bag without proper temperature control.”
He added: “With many of us working 8-hour shifts or attending school for a similar duration, we’re effectively pushing the limits of this danger zone, increasing the risk of foodborne illnesses.”
In The Bahamas, with the ongoing rise in global temperatures and our humid climate creating an ideal, moisture-rich breeding ground for harmful bacteria, the significance of implementing temperature control measures cannot be emphasized enough.
This can include using high-quality temperature-controlled containers, such as thermoses or coolers, to ensure sure that lunches remain hot or cold until the last moment before leaving the house. Hot and cold foods are also recommended to be separated to prevent any cross-contamination.
Hall further advises parents to test the effectiveness of their child’s insulated containers: “See how long a hot cup of soup lasts in your favorite insulated container, or see how long a frozen tin of juice lasts. If you truly want to turn it into a home project for your family, get a food probe and test it. Trust me, food safety is worth it.”
In addition to these critical factors regarding the food safety of packed lunches, Simeon Hall Jr encouraged parents and guardians to inquire about their child’s school cafeteria’s food safety credentials.
He reminded that anyone handling food and beverages in The Bahamas is obligated to hold at least a government health certificate, and establishments more committed to food safety often have at least one ServSafe-certified team member on staff.