The Food Danger Zone (Required Reading for Meal Preppers)
Generally speaking eating spoiled food is fairly easy to avoid. It looks weird, it smells bad, and on the off chance it makes it into your mouth, you'll probably want to spit it out because it'll taste rotten.
But what about before your food spoils, when it's been hanging out at room temperature for a few hours, because you don't have a quality meal bag? You probably won't taste anything wrong with it. You might not even smell anything weird, especially if it's only been out for an hour or so. But what you can't see, smell, taste, hear, or feel are millions of bacteria setting up camp in, on, and around your lunch. Gross huh?
This is because food is extremely sensitive to bacteria. In fact, bacteria will double in just 20 minutes when food is kept between 40 degrees F and 140 degrees F. It's called the "Danger Zone", and for good reason. When food is left in this temperature range bacteria can quickly multiply to dangerous and even deadly levels.
Types of bacteria that manifest in spoiled food
- Campylobacter jejuni
- Clostridium botulinum
- Clostridium perfringens
- Escherichia coli O157:H7 (E.Coli)
- Listeria monocytogenes
- Salmonella (over 2300 types)
- Shigella (over 30 types)
- Staphylococcus aureus
- Vibrio vulnificus
These bacteria cause a variety of food borne illnesses, which cause symptoms including:
- Stiff neck
- Abdominal pain
- Muscle aches
- Muscle weakness
- Loss of balance
- Blurred vision
- Double vision
- Slowed or slurred speech
- Dry mouth
- Difficulty swallowing
Prevention is easy
Luckily preventing many of these illnesses is as easy as storing your food properly and at the correct temperatures within a meal prep lunch box. You see, bacteria thrive between 40 and 140 degrees F. Below 40 degrees F they go dormant and do not multiply. They also lose their ability to multiply above 140 degrees F. It's also interesting to note that at just a slightly higher temperatures (145 degrees F) bacteria begins to die; this is the lowest temperature you'll want to cook your food to.
Many people pack their lunch or dinner in fitness lunch bags, to take with them when they know they're going to be away from home for a few hours. That way they can avoid fast foods and unhealthy meal options. Yet their food can be packed with the most nutritional value possible and if they are storing it improperly or in poorly insulated lunch bags, until they're ready to eat, the food will no longer be healthy. It will instead be a breading ground for bacteria and disease.
Tips to Avoid Food Illness
- Invest in the right insulated lunch cooler
- Not all coolers are created equally. In fact, many insulated lunch coolers (even with ice packs included) will not keep food cold enough.
- Include an ice pack (2 for longer storage)
- Don't forget your ice pack. Even the best insulated lunch cooler will not keep food cold without one.
- Keep your lunch cooler closed until it's time to eat
- The more times you open your lunch cooler, the more cold air you let out and the warmer you allow the interior of the cooler (and your food) to become.