What Every Parent Needs to Know Before Packing Their Child’s Lunch

Parents can be put in a tough spot when food recalls affect some of the go-to snacks they commonly pack in lunches for their children. Recently, several cracker brands pulled products off store shelves due to a possible salmonella contamination. In these most recent examples, the ingredient that may be contaminated is a whey powder used in seasoning.  What can parents do to ensure their child’s lunch is safe and healthy?

What to Do If You Own a Recalled Product

“If you do have one of the recalled products, you can either throw them out or you can even take it back to the store where you bought it from as they will dispose of it for you,” said Dr. Shariar Akter, pediatrician with Memorial Hermann Medical Group Sugar Land. “I would also recommend properly cleaning any countertops, cookware, or utensils with hot soapy water if they have been in recent contact with the recalled food products.”

Dr. Akter suggests verifying that the exact product is part of the recall. Typically, it’s a particular flavor, packaging, size or date of manufacture that is affected. It’s important to identify exactly which products are affected so you aren’t disposing of something that is of no threat.

Signs and Symptoms of Salmonella

“The major signs and symptoms of the most common type of salmonella associated with food exposure include diarrhea, abdominal cramps, and fever,” said Dr. Akter. “Less common symptoms may also include nausea, vomiting, headache and blood in stool along with the major symptoms. These symptoms typically start within 1-3 days of exposure to the contaminated food and may last anywhere from 2-7 days. Dehydration can also occur as a result of the symptoms, especially in younger children, so it is very important to stay well-hydrated.”

It’s important to keep in mind that most of these general symptoms can also be attributed to other much more common illnesses. It’s important to discuss with your physician if you have any concerns so they can help collect a careful food exposure history as well as any appropriate tests, if indicated, to help guide the diagnosis.

Safe and Smart Back-To-School Lunches

“It’s no easy task to pack lunch for our children, especially if there is a picky eater involved,” said Dr. Akter. “Get the kids involved in preparing or picking from several options so they are more likely to be motivated to eat and finish the food packed for lunch.”

According to Dr. Akter, lunch should generally include at least one protein (meat, eggs, beans, nut butter, etc.) along with whole grain items (bread or pasta) that can provide energy throughout the day. At least 2-3 servings of veggies or fresh fruit with corresponding low fat dips are also great sides to pack. For beverages, either low-fat milk (2%) or juice is a better option than other drinks. Pick 100% fruit juices over the fruit-flavored kinds in order to get more nutrients (but limit to 8-12 ounces per day because even the 100% fruit juices contain plenty of sugar).

“Remember, a healthy and hearty breakfast is actually the best way to start the day and help the kids function well at school,” said Dr. Akter.

Staying Up-To-Date With Food Recalls

The best resource for staying up-to-date with food recalls can be found at www.foodsafety.gov under the “recall and alerts” section. The website contains helpful information on cooking and storing food safely. You can also sign up to get automatic alerts for recalls.

“Of course, your pediatrician or primary care physician is always there to help keep you notified and answer any questions you may have about food recalls,” said Dr. Akter.

If you think you are experiencing food poisoning, seek medical help at an Urgent Care or Emergency Center near you.

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