Are you packing Japanese-style bento for your children or for work? Here are helpful food safety tips on keeping the lunch safe until lunchtime.
Bacteria can grow rapidly in a warm environment, which can cause food poisoning.
Don’t worry, I don’t mean to scare you. I brought homemade bento that my mom prepared every day to middle school, high school, and college, and I never had food poisoning.
To make sure the food is safe for those you pack lunches for, you should follow the following 3 key points: cook/reheat, let cool, and keep it cool till lunchtime.
Why We Reheat Food
Japanese bentos are meant to be eaten at room temperature. The fact is the longer food has been lying around, it gets less fresh, even if you put an ice pack or keep it in the refrigerator.
Therefore, I highly recommend reheating cooked food before packing lunch. Reheating cooked food kills bacteria. It’s better to take extra safety precautions especially if you live in a humid or hot climate.
All you need to do is to reheat the food, let it cool down completely before closing the bento box, and then keep the bento cool with an ice pack the whole time with till lunchtime.
However, if you can keep your bento box in the refrigerator and microwave it at lunchtime (such as in the office), it is okay to pack lunch the previous night and keep it in the refrigerator.
Read more about food poisoning and food spoilage here.
How To Keep Your Bento Safe
- Wash your hands.
- Make sure your bento box is clean and dry.
- Use clean utensils (chopsticks etc) or plastic gloves when you touch food. Your hands carry germs so it’s better to avoid handling food with bare hands. If you touch one food to the other with the same utensil, wipe off the utensil in between, or simply use another utensil. If you decide to wash it, then make sure your utensil is completely dry before picking up another food.
- Re-heat pre-cooked/leftover food before packing is highly recommended. If you do so, I also recommend heating up with a pan or toaster oven instead of microwave so that food, especially meat, is heated THOROUGHLY and not partially.
- Before you pack cold/cool food in your typical Japanese bento box, hot/warm rice must be cooled down. It’s dangerous when hot/warm rice heat up other food halfway because bacteria would start growing.
- Remove all liquid from the food which could spoil faster.
- To avoid any risk of bacteria growth, you must cool down the food first before closing the bento, especially if the lunch box is going stay at room temperature for a few hours period.
- Use ice packs and an insulated bag to keep food fresh and safe till lunch time.