How to prepare bento box meals that are safe to eat?

Reiko Tsunabuchi, a cooking instructor at the Ecole de Cuisine Egami in Tokyo recommends heating ingredients until they are cooked through and sufficiently cool them before arranging them in the bento box to prevent food poisoning.
Reiko Tsunabuchi, a cooking instructor at the Ecole de Cuisine Egami in Tokyo recommends heating ingredients until they are cooked through and sufficiently cool them before arranging them in the bento box to prevent food poisoning. PHOTO: FOUR SEASONS RESORTS LANGKAWI, MALAYSIA

Get some tips from a bento expert including compartmentalising cooked food and season ingredients with ginger and vinegar to prevent them from spoiling

(YOMIURI SHIMBUN) - When making bento lunch boxes during hot and humid weather, it is crucial to take precautions to prevent food poisoning. According to Reiko Tsunabuchi, a cooking instructor at the Ecole de Cuisine Egami in Tokyo, it is important to heat ingredients until they are cooked through and sufficiently cool them before arranging them in the box. She also recommends strong seasonings.

The simplest way to prevent food poisoning is to stop harmful bacteria from contaminating your food. We need to be especially careful when preparing ingredients for a bento, as a certain amount of time will have elapsed between preparation and consumption.

What kind of dishes are most suitable for bento lunches? “I recommend dishes that can be cooked through,” Tsunabuchi said. For example, kinpira stir-fried sliced vegetables seasoned with sugar and soy sauce and thin ginger-flavoured slices of meat are suitable choices. While tamagoyaki is typically a common dish in bento lunches, it should be avoided in summer, as sometimes the centre remains raw after cooking. Instead, Tsunabuchi suggests preparing a thinly cooked omelette and rolling it.

One tip to keep in mind is that the use of spices such as ginger, wasabi and red chilli pepper or vinegar will help prevent food from spoiling. This instalment introduces ginger-flavoured pork, egg rolls using wasabi, and kinpira using red chilli pepper for a bento lunch box. Broccoli is also soaked in vinegar for about one hour to make pickled broccoli.

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After cooking these dishes, cool them sufficiently and drain excess liquids. Use small separators to arrange the cooked dishes in a bento box so that liquids from one dish will not affect the others. Stopping cross contamination helps to prevent the other dishes from spoiling. It is also important not to directly touch dishes with your hands when arranging them in the box.

Before putting cooked rice in the box, it should also be sufficiently cooled. When making onigiri rice balls, particular care must be taken at the preparation stage. Make sure to use enough salt and use plastic wrap to make the rice balls so that any bacteria on your hands is not transferred to the rice balls.

To prevent food contamination, use separators to arrange the side dishes in a bento box to prevent the liquids from mixing.
To prevent food contamination, use separators to arrange the side dishes in a bento box to prevent the liquids from mixing. PHOTO: YOMIURI SHIMBUN 

“If you want to wrap onigiri for transport, first cool the rice balls and employ a new piece of plastic wrap. If you want to wrap them in nori dried seaweed, do this right before you intend to eat them,” Tsunabuchi says. As ingredients, her recommendations are ginger pickled in sweetened vinegar, umeboshi salt-preserved plums and green shiso leaves, as these have an antiseptic effect. Finely chop and mix these into the rice.

“When transporting the lunch box, you should use cold packs and a cool bag,” she said.

According to Tsunabuchi, it is important to make an extra effort when storing a lunch box and using it. Depending on the types of materials, a lunch box should be washed with detergent and then sterilised with boiling water or antibacterial kitchen cleaner. Wipe the box with a clean dishcloth and dry well. Before using the box again, wipe the inside with kitchen paper soaked in a small amount of vinegar.

TIPS TO PREPARE A BENTO BOX MEAL SAFELY

■ Heat ingredients until cooked through

■ Cool the cooked ingredients sufficiently, drain excess liquids before arranging them in the lunch box

■ Use spices such as ginger and red chili pepper or vinegar


ROLLED OMELETTE WITH WASABI

Ingredients:
1 egg
1 tsp sugar
A pinch of salt
A pinch of wasabi paste

Method:
1. Beat egg and add sugar, salt and wasabi to beaten egg. Mix, and divide resulting mixture in half.

2. Make two paper-thin omelettes. After they have cooled, roll these using plastic wrap without directly touching them with your hands. Cut the omelette into bite-size portions.


PICKLED BROCCOLI

Ingredients:
1  broccoli head
1 clove garlic
1 red chilli pepper
Black pepper
Ready-made sushi vinegar

Method:
1. Divide broccoli into bite-size portions, boil in salted hot water and drain in a colander.

2. Put broccoli, peeled garlic clove cut in half lengthwise, red chilli pepper and black pepper in a container. Pour vinegar over the ingredients and leave for about one hour. Drain excess liquid.