Pack up a picnic

Food safety expert Ala’a Al Ashoush on packing the perfect hamper


With picnic season upon us, food safety expert Ala’a Al Ashoush from Al Bayader International gives us the latest food safety guidelines for packing the perfect hamper.

What precautions should we take when packing food for our kids?
Children’s immune systems are not developed enough to resist certain types of bacteria, so they are more likely to fall sick as a result of eating contaminated foods. You need to bear in mind the fact that food can get contaminated through many different channels. Handling it too much during preparation, allowing it to come into contact with dirty surfaces, and even airborne contaminants, such as insects and incorrect temperatures, can all result in food ‘turning bad’. Some popular types of picnic foods are also more likely to turn – usually those containing more proteins, like egg, for example.

What labels can we look out for on packaging or food to help us pack it safely?
Before selecting the packaging material, look for the usage instructions made by the manufacturer and the special precautions or warnings such as: ‘not safe for microwaves’ and the food grade symbol.

What are the common mistakes parents make when packing school lunchboxes?
Parents often don’t pay attention to the separation of food inside the lunchbox. It’s important that every food item must be packed individually. Also, many people don’t know that you should remove the air from the bag when packing sandwiches before locking or folding it. Parents will often reuse the disposable sandwich bag – which is a big no-no!

How can I ensure food stays safe when my child is at school?
Only use good quality, fresh ingredients to prepare your kids’ meals. The sooner your child eats his or her correctly packed food, the lesser the chance it will become contaminated. Avoid using processed meat, unpasteurized cheese, fish and fresh milk in your child’s lunch box, as these types of food are very easily contaminated.

How can I make sure that leftovers are packed safely?
Keeping food at the right temperature is very important. If you are cooling hot food for a packed lunch box, cool it quickly in a shallow container, and once steaming stops, cover with cling film and store it in the fridge. Store the food in the fridge within 90 minutes of it having been cooked. The top shelf of the fridge is the coolest – and therefore recommended place for leftovers. If you are serving hot food, keep it hot in a flasked container. Warm environments help harmful bacteria to grow.

Are there any golden rules that we always need to follow?
Separate the items. Each part of the packed lunch should be packed in a separate container designed for that purpose. Don’t reuse disposable packing materials. Buy special containers that can be washed and reused to save the environment and prevent upset tummies instead. Make sure they are air-tight, and remember to remove air from the zipper bags before locking.

Are all plastics safe to use with food? Can I use them all in the microwave?
Plastics are grouped into seven different families, and each family has various properties and uses. Plastic materials that are intended for use with food should carry a food grade symbol. Most plastics are not microwave safe. The plastic which is safe in the microwave is labelled PP on the container, and it is able to resist higher temperatures.

Ala’as top six tips

1 Foods that are high in protein are more prone to contamination. That means processed meats, eggs and unpasteurized dairy products.

2 Use proper containers. Make sure they are well washed and air tight.

3 Maintain temperature either with cooler packs, or hot flasks.

4 Avoid handling the food too much during preparation.

5 Don’t prepare food more than a day before it is to be eaten.

6 Frozen picnic items should be defrosted in the fridge and then stored in a cooler box.

Did you know?

The humble watermelon and even the cantaloupe are common culprits of food poisoning. Salmonella and shigella bacterias are often present on the rind. Therefore, washing them thoroughly before cutting, and then refrigerating the cut pieces, is important. Melons, unlike most other fruits, are not acidic and therefore promote the growth of harmful bacteria.

Want to learn more?

Kidville are running Pack it Safe food safety workshops in association with Al Bayader and Dubai Municipality. Parents and care givers will be given live demonstrations plus mini-quizzes and a Q&A session will be part of the workshop, to ensure attendees leave informed and prepared to handle food safely.
Workshops are scheduled at: Kidville JBR on November 19 11am-12.30 pm (04 440 1220). Motorcity on November 26 from 11am-12.30pm(04 454 2760). Uptown Mirdif on December 3 from 11am-12.30pm (04 236 3648). For more information visit

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