Packing meals to schools and workplaces is a common practice for us to enjoy homemade dishes conveniently. However, these meals may be stored or transported at unsafe temperatures for some time before consumption, making them susceptible to contamination and harmful bacterial growth. If these meals not stored properly, disease-causing bacteria can multiply to dangerous levels or produce toxins, leading to food poisoning.
However, certain venues such as schools may not have access to refrigeration or reheating devices. Therefore, it is important to implement appropriate measures based on the setting where the meal is consumed to ensure food safety.
Adhere to the "Five Keys to Food Safety" in the course of meal preparation and during transportation:
In addition, please observe the following advice:
- Susceptible populations including the elderly, pregnant women, people with weakened immunity, infants and young children should avoid consuming raw or undercooked foods.
- For individuals with food allergies, watch out for allergens when selecting food ingredients by carefully reading the ingredient lists on prepackaged food products.
- Keep prepared food away from dangerous temperatures between 4°C and 60°C, where most bacteria that cause diseases grow and multiply quickly.
- Cook food thoroughly with core temperatures reaching at least 75°C.
- If chilling is required, cool cooked food promptly, pack it in a clean, insulated container and store it in the refrigerator at 4°C or below within 2 hours.
- If only part of a pre-cooked meal (e.g. dinner a night before) is used for packing, it is preferable to transfer and cool that portion of food in a separate container before the meal to avoid contamination on the table.
Packing, Transportation and Storage
- Pack meals right before leaving home.
- Keep packed meals at a safe temperature when commuting:
- For hot foods such as cooked or reheated meals, they should be kept at or above 60°C in appropriate insulated containers.
- Cook or reheat food thoroughly with core temperatures reaching at least 75°C before packing it into an insulated container.
- Cold foods
- For cold foods such as chilled pre-cooked meals, ham sandwiches, salads and other cold perishable foods, they should be kept at or below 4°C in an insulated meal box or bag combined with at least two cold sources, such as frozen gel packs or a frozen gel pack along with a frozen boxed beverage or frozen bottle of water, to keep food cold and safe until mealtime. Place the cold sources on the top and bottom of the perishable food items inside the insulated bag.
- Put the cold food into a refrigerator if available at the venue upon arrival.
- Otherwise, avoid packing cold perishable foods if cold-holding before mealtime is not possible.
- Make sure all cutleries, containers, utensils and food bags are clean before use.
- Once the food is exposed to room temperature for some time, finish the food as soon as possible. Discard any food that has been left at room temperature for more than 4 hours, and do not refrigerate or consume it.
- If reheating is required, ensure that the food is thoroughly reheated until steaming hot. If a food thermometer is available, check the core temperature of the food to ensure that it has reached at least 75°C before consumption. Do not reheat the food more than once.
- If a microwave oven is used for reheating, stir the food about halfway through to facilitate even heat distribution. Cook frozen convenience meals as directed on the packaging.
- Maintain proper hand hygiene (e.g. hand washing) before eating.
- Discard any leftover food that has been in the meal box for too long and has not been kept at a safe temperature into rubbish bins with covered lids.
- Clean all reusable cutleries, utensils, containers and food bags with hot, soapy water after the meal.