WASHINGTON — It's that time of year again. Time to trade in the beach balls and bathing suits for backpacks and notebooks. 

But according to the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA),  back-to-school time is also followed by cold and flu season. The agency is asking families to follow some simple healthy behaviors to help them avoid all kinds of illnesses this time of year, including foodborne illness. Proper handwashing is the best thing you can do to stop the spread of germs and avoid getting your little ones sick, they said.

“USDA research in collaboration with RTI International and NC State University has found that consumers are failing to properly wash their hands 97 percent of the time.” said Dr. Mindy Brashears, Deputy Under Secretary Food Safety. “Washing hands is one of the most effective ways to prevent illness, including foodborne illness.”

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The USDA is recommending that families follows these steps: 

  1. Wet hands with clean, warm running water, turn off the tap, and apply soap.
  2. Lather hands by rubbing them together with the soap. Be sure to lather the backs of hands, between your fingers, and under nails.
  3. Scrub hands for at least 20 seconds.
  4. Rinse hands well under clean, warm running water.
  5. Dry hands using a clean towel or paper towel

It is not only important to have clean hands, but also make sure lunch boxes and coolers are clean before packing.  The USDA also is offering the following Lunch Packing Tips

  • If the lunch contains perishable food items like luncheon meats, eggs, cheese or yogurt, make sure to pack it with at least two cold sources, such as freezer packs. Harmful bacteria multiply rapidly so perishable food transported without a cold source won't stay safe long.
  • Frozen juice boxes or water can also be used as freezer packs. Freeze these items overnight and use with at least one other freezer pack. By lunchtime, the liquids should be thawed and ready to drink.
  • If packing a hot lunch, like soup, chili or stew, use an insulated container to keep it hot. Fill the container with boiling water, let stand for a few minutes, empty, and then put in the piping hot food. Tell children to keep the insulated container closed until lunchtime to keep the food at 140°F or above.
  • If packing a child’s lunch the night before, parents should leave it in the refrigerator overnight. The meal will stay cold longer because everything will be refrigerator temperature when it is placed in the lunchbox.