Ice Cooler is Your Best Friend on the Road


You’re going on a road trip. Did you know your best friend for food safety is that cooler of yours, the one quietly sitting on a shelf in the garage? The same cooler taken out during cookouts or picnics also keeps your perishable foods safe while on the road.

Before you head out the door, bring that cooler to the kitchen and clean it with warm water and soap. When packing the food, make sure to fill it with PLENTY of ice or frozen gel-packs.

“You should have a separate cooler for drinks for two reasons. The cooler containing the drinks is opened often, letting in warm air. The cooler containing perishable food should not be opened often because the food needs to be stored as cold as possible to reduce the risk of bacterial growth,” Food Safety and Inspection Service spokesperson Maria Malagon suggested. “It is important to pack perishable foods directly from the refrigerator or freezer into the cooler.”

If the food is still frozen when you pack it, it will stay cold longer. Placing an appliance thermometer in the cooler will help you be sure the food stays at a safe temperature–40 °F or below. Also, try to keep the cooler full.  A full cooler will maintain a cold temperature longer than one that is partially filled. Don’t forget to keep raw meat and poultry wrapped separately from cooked foods or snacks meant to be eaten raw.

“If you are going on a long trip or are picnicking along the way, we recommend taking two coolers with you  — one for the day’s immediate food needs, such as lunch, drinks or snacks, and the other for perishable foods to be used later in the vacation,” Malagon advised. “Limit the times the cooler is opened. Open and close the lid quickly.”

Spending the day at the beach?  Take along only the amount of food that can be eaten to avoid having leftovers. Partially bury your cooler in the sand, cover it with blankets, and shade it with a beach umbrella. On a hot day, especially when outside temperatures rise above 90 °F, the ice in coolers melts faster so coolers can be less effective at keeping food safe.

If you go on a boating trip, make sure not to let perishable food sit out while swimming or fishing. Remember, food sitting out for more than 2 hours, or 1 hour if the outside temperature is above 90 °F, must be thrown out.

For the lucky ones who caught fish, gut the fish and make sure to wrap both whole and filleted fish in water-tight plastic. Store them in a cooler. We recommend placing 3 to 4 inches of ice on the bottom of the cooler first, then alternate layers of fish and ice. Cook the fish in 1 or 2 days, or freeze it. After cooking, eat within 3 to 4 days. Make sure the raw fish stays separate from cooked foods.

Crabs, lobsters and other shellfish must be kept alive until cooked. Store them in a bushel or laundry basket under wet burlap. Crabs and lobsters are best eaten the day they are caught. Live oysters can keep 7 to10 days; mussels and clams, 4-5 days.

A note of caution: Be aware of the potential dangers of eating raw shellfish. Eating raw shellfish is not recommended for anyone but this is especially true for persons with liver disorders or weakened immune systems.

Camping overnight? Remember to keep your cooler in a shady spot. Keep it covered with a blanket, tarp or poncho. If the ice melts or the gel packs thaw, and perishable food becomes warmer than 40 °F, discard it.

Bring along bottled water or other canned or bottled drinks. Always assume that streams and rivers are not safe for drinking. If camping in a remote area, bring along water purification tablets or equipment. These are available at camping supply stores.

Keep hands and all utensils clean when preparing food. Use disposable moist towels to clean hands. When you plan meals, think about buying and using shelf-stable food to ensure food safety.

Follow these tips and have a great time!

For more information, please click here.  You can also Ask Karen 24 hours a day at or call the USDA Meat & Poultry Hotline at 1-888-MPHotline (1-888- 674-6854).


Speaking Up for Child Nutrition Programs


National PTA Legislative Chair Stella Edwards and National PTA President Otha Thornton pose with Debbie Stabenow, chair of the Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry

National PTA Legislative Chair Stella Edwards and National PTA President Otha Thornton pose with Debbie Stabenow, chair of the Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry

On June 12, I had the honor of bringing the voice of families and child advocates to Capitol Hill and testifying before the Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry at a hearing titled, A National Priority: The Importance of Child Nutrition Programs to Our Nation’s Health, Economy and National Security.

Congress passed the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act in 2010, which directed the U.S. Department of Agriculture to improve the nation’s child nutrition programs. The Act requires that schools make updates to serve healthier food to students during the school day, including in a la carte lines, vending machines and school stores. In exchange, Congress increased the reimbursement rate schools receive for each meal served. The Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry currently is considering the reauthorization of child nutrition programs, which is due in 2015.

Strengthening programs that promote healthy school environments and ensuring that all children have access to critical nutritious food options has been a longtime priority for National PTA. It is essential that improvements continue to be made as high quality national nutrition programs are critical to the future of our children and also our country.

Following is the testimony I gave before the Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry during the hearing:

Chairman Stabenow, Ranking Member Cochran, committee members, and my fellow distinguished panelists, I am honored to have the opportunity to speak before you today on behalf of the over four million members of the National Parent Teacher Association (PTA). With more than 24,000 local units, PTA flourishes in all 50 states, the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, the U.S. Virgin Islands, and the Department of Defense schools in Europe. 

I currently serve as the President of the National PTA, an elected volunteer position I assumed in June 2013. In addition to my involvement with National PTA, I have been active in state and local PTAs in Georgia, Maryland, Texas, Michigan and Kaiserslautern, Germany. I am currently employed as a senior operations analyst with General Dynamics at Fort Stewart, Georgia and am a retired United States Army Lieutenant Colonel. Most importantly, I have over two decades of experience as a father to my two wonderful children with my wife Caryn – Candice and Tre. 

PTA was founded in 1897 and is the oldest and largest volunteer child advocacy association in the United States. PTA’s legacy of influencing policy to protect the education, health, and overall well-being of children has made an indelible impact in the lives of millions of children and their families.  This legacy includes the creation of kindergarten classes, a juvenile justice system, child labor laws, and mandatory immunizations for school children.  Our mission is to be a powerful voice for every child.

With regard to today’s hearing, one of the fundamental purposes of PTA is to preserve children’s health and protect them from harm. PTA has been at the table from the beginning – piloting a hot lunch program in schools in the 1920’s that led to PTA’s advocacy for a national school lunch program and each subsequent reauthorization of the Richard B. Russell National School Lunch Act.       

Most recently, PTA and our coalition partners fought for passage of the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act, which, as you know, made significant updates to our nation’s school nutrition programs. PTA viewed this as both a win for kids and parents because parents knew that – for the first time – no matter what our kids purchased in the cafeteria, it was going to be good for them. And as the primary decision-makers in our kids’ lives, it also provided us – parents – a stronger role through Local Wellness Policy development, implementation and evaluation. And as I always say, “if you’re not at the table, you’re on the menu.”

I mention these past accomplishments not only to underscore PTA’s commitment to the well-being of our nation’s children, but also to provide a historical context for where we are today.  We have made a commitment to our children for over 70 years to do right by them in the cafeteria, and we cannot turn our backs now.  I know some of my fellow panelists will address the reality our nation’s obesity crisis as it relates to our overall health and national security, so as a PTA leader and father, I am here today to tell you that parents and families are committed to working together to ensure the continued success of our nation’s child nutrition programs.

So where are we today? Schools are making exceptional progress in the nutritional quality of the meals they are serving to our kids. There have been challenges along the way, but that’s to be expected. We’re parents after all! When is the last time you changed up the rules for your kids in the interest of their well-being and your kids were happy about it? Anyone?

And I truly believe that way we approach school meals will not only instantly impact our kids, but also our families.

As partners in the school building, PTA and parents understand that there are certain challenging realities – there’s never enough time, seldom enough money and often times minimal resources. But that has never and can never be a free pass to not do what is best for our kids. For parents, it means that we need to step up to the plate and support our schools – the board, the administration, the school food service, the teachers and the students –  to make sure that school meals are successful.

And that means having a seat at the table and finding solutions to the challenges. Do we need updated kitchen equipment to serve fresh foods? Well – how are we going to secure funding? Do we need volunteers so breakfast can be served in the classroom? Well – let’s get some parents or grandparents together. Do we need to taste test some new items? How can we help? Do we need to adjust our fundraising practices? Let’s do this. Our kids don’t have enough time to eat lunch?  How can we solve this problem? We can do this – together. It may take a little bit of time and a lot of effort, but we can do this. 

In closing, I respectfully ask all committee members to keep in mind that we make decisions in every other part of the school based on what is best for our students’ success – and the cafeteria should be no different. I commend the committee for looking into these programs and understanding their critical importance for doing the right thing for all of our students.

After all, the nutritional needs of our children remain the same whether they live in Iowa or Georgia.  It is impractical to force parents to fight for access to healthier school foods one school at a time, reinventing the wheel while facing the same obstacles at each and every turn. High quality national nutrition programs ease this burden, while still allowing for a great deal of local control over the implementation of the programs. 

Once again, I would like to thank the committee and all of the other panelists for engaging in this topic, which is critical to the future of not only our children, but our country.  Make no mistake, the decisions made during this reauthorization will impact our schools, our hospitals, our economy, our military, our homes and, most importantly, our kids. 

PTA members and families play an important role in helping schools implement improved meal and snack offerings. Working together at the federal, state and local levels, we can find solutions to the challenges to support our schools and ensure the continued success of our nation’s child nutrition programs, which is critical for students’ success. If you would like to reach out to Congress about supporting nutrition guidelines for school meals, visit our PTA Takes Action page today:

To view a recording of the Senate Agriculture Committee hearing, visit

Otha Thornton is president of National PTA.

Helping Give Parents a Shot at Life

F-HilbertFor 20 years, I have been an active PTA member and a passionate advocate for education, diversity and inclusion of minority students in our schools and communities. As a PTA member, I have the opportunity to educate, create awareness, address issues and stand up for the rights of children in many ways.

As a Shot@Life Champion, I stand up for the rights of children around the world! I have been supporting, advocating and championing for Shot@Life because I believe in their mission and goals. Working as a nurse in Mexico, I saw firsthand children living in poverty and with health issues.

I have always felt a sense of duty to do everything I can to address the needs and alleviate the problems of others. I grew up seeing the effect a lack of basic vaccines has on children in poor countries. I saw the pain and agony of children suffering from measles, diarrhea and other diseases.

Because of this, I know that a simple vaccine can make the difference between life and death for children in developing countries. Shot@Life resonates with me and should reverberate with you and everybody else – especially, for those who care about human life. No matter where you live or where you are from, when you hear that a child dies every 20 seconds from a vaccine-preventable disease, you want to get involved.

One of my favorite experiences was the time I spent with the Shot@Life in Uganda. The Ugandan people’s courage and resilience as well as the children’s smiles and gratitude taught me the power of kindness and the triumph of the human spirit. Truly a little bit of charity can yield great progress and beneficence.

Shot@Life is raising awareness to help immunize children in Uganda and many other developing countries fighting against vaccine-preventable diseases like measles, polio, pneumonia and rotavirus. I believe in this cause and pride myself on being part of a campaign that saves children lives!

I am a mother, and I know that parents will do anything to make sure that their children are safe and healthy. I know too that all of you love children and stand for the human rights of children.  So please join me to help protect, save, and give children around the globe a shot at life. It can start with spreading awareness through your social networks, writing letters and calling your members of Congress and pledging to share the message with all your friends.

Look for the Shot@Life booth during the National PTA conference, and ask how you can become part of this campaign. The Shot@Life team will be there to answer questions and show you ways that you and your PTA units can get involved with the cause. Please join me to help protect, save and give children around the globe a shot at life.

Tools and Resources to Help Keep School Children Safe


Try as we might, it’s impossible to protect our children from every danger in the world. Although we wish for full-body bubble wrap, implanted GPS, and a spectrum of safety gadgets for our toddlers, youngsters and teenagers, we eventually realize that with each passing year, they become more independent. So, we teach them “rules” to keep them safer—don’t talk to strangers, tell a parent if someone touches you inappropriately, and be careful who you interact with online.

Statistics show good reasons to be cautious. More than 2,000 children are reported missing each day in the US. The risks multiply with age and exposure to the Internet. It is reported 1 in 25 children between the ages of 10 and 17 receive sexual solicitations online, where a solicitor attempts to make offline contact with the child. That’s why as parents, it is important to have resources and tools to help keep kids safe.

For more than 10 years, Lifetouch, the leading provider of school and family photography, has partnered with the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children to help provide law enforcement with the most valuable tool when a child goes missing—a current photograph. Each year, Lifetouch distributes SmileSafe® photo ID cards, free of charge, to families where Lifetouch provides school photography. Since the inception of the SmileSafe program, more than 300 million cards have been distributed.

If a child is missing, parents can share the SmileSafe card with law enforcement. Each card lists the phone number for the National Center and unique access codes for retrieval of photography. When the National Center receives a call, it contacts the Lifetouch Rapid Response team to forward a current photograph to law enforcement, 24/7.

This fall marks the launch of SmileSafe—a national safety program, which will make electronic and paper ID cards and resources for online safety readily available in elementary schools, middle schools and high schools. Lifetouch is proud to have expanded this program, providing parents with valuable tools to help keep their children safe or help to bring them home if they go missing.

Watch for more information about SmileSafe—a national safety program at the beginning of the 2014-15 school year.  Additional safety tips and resources from the National Center for Missing and Exploited children are available at

Help End Child Hunger and Improve School Nutrition through the Community Eligibility Provision

Levin_Madeleine FRACLooking for ways to help end hunger and develop healthier students in your schools? The Community Eligibility Provision (CEP) is a new opportunity for schools in areas that experience high poverty levels to provide free breakfast and lunch to all students. Previously only available in 11 states, all eligible schools across the country have until June 30 to opt in for the 2014-2015 school year. PTA leaders are in a unique position to support Community Eligibility and can help spread the word before the June 30 deadline.

What is the Community Eligibility Provision?

Community eligibility is a new provision of the National School Lunch Program that removes the families’ and schools’ burden of submitting paper applications to enroll students for school meals in high-poverty communities. Instead, schools provide all students with free school breakfast and lunch, and are reimbursed through a formula based on the number of students participating in additional federal benefit programs such as, homeless or migrant education, or who are living in households that receive SNAP/Food Stamps, TANF cash assistance or the Food Distribution on Indian Reservation benefits, or because they are in foster care or Head Start. Typically, schools that can participate have 75 to 80% free and reduced price meal eligibility, and also a high level of households utilizing SNAP.

How can PTA leaders take action?

PTA leaders can help promote community eligibility as we near the June 30th deadline for school districts to decide whether to opt in for the 2014-2015 school year:

  • See if schools in your School District are eligible: Check out the USDA Community Eligibility Provision map for state lists of eligible schools.
  • Write a letter to key decision-makers urging support of CEP: Use this sample letter to express support to the Superintendent to opt into CEP.
  • Write an op-ed: State your support publicly for CEP by using this sample op-ed to submit an opinion editorial to your local newspaper.
  • Learn more about CEP: Utilize these CEP resources from FRAC, and also view this webinar from the School Nutrition Association.

For more information contact: Madeleine Levin, Senior Policy Analyst, Food Research and Action Center,

Madeleine is a senior policy analyst in the Child Nutrition Unit at the Food Research and Action Center (FRAC), working on school nutrition issues. She focuses on the National School Lunch Program, the National School Breakfast Program and local school wellness policies. Madeleine has a rich background in maternal and child health policy and programs. After serving as health and nutrition coordinator for a large Head Start program in Chicago, she was a member of the National Technical Assistance Network for Head Start programs, working primarily with programs in the mid-Atlantic region. In addition to a strong background in child nutrition, she also has expertise in special nutrition concerns of children with disabilities. Madeleine earned her bachelors’ degree from the University of Chicago and her Masters in Public Health from the University of Illinois.


The Lysol Healthy Habits Bus Hits the Road!

National PTA is a proud supporter of the Healthy Habits Bus Tour, which will visit schools nationwide.


We are excited that the National PTA is a proud supporter of the Healthy Habits Program, presented by Lysol in collaboration with the NEA and PTA. The program is focused on providing families and classrooms with the resources and tools they need to help live healthy, happy lives. The Healthy Habits Program provides teachers, parents and children with lesson plans, activity guides and a science museum on wheels – the Healthy Habits Bus, a first-ever educational bus that helps make germs more understandable and real. It’s important to reduce absenteeism in schools due to illness, so we strive to educate children on what they can do to help stop the spread of germs and stay healthy inside and outside of school.

Healthy Habits Bus InteractionBeginning in June and running through October of this year, the Lysol Healthy Habits Bus will tour schools and retailers across the country, spreading news on the importance of healthy habits and good hygiene practices. The bus offers a series of features that show children how thorough hand washing and healthy habits can help keep them healthy:

  • Clean Hands Germs Scan: Children will place their hands in the Hand Scanner and see their hands projected onto a screen in front of them with animated “germs” wriggling all over them! A video then teaches the proper way to clean hands and kill germs.
  • Anatomy of the Sneeze: An animated nose on a screen sneezes – accompanied by a burst of air so children feel like they have been sneezed on. They then see themselves surrounded by animated “germs,” simulating how sneezes spread germs around a small area.
  • When to Wash: A touchscreen game shows a class in progress. Children tap the students who need to wash their hands. Correct answers get a reward; missed chances prompt videos that explain how germs spread when hands aren’t washed.
  • Defeat the Germs!: In this KinectTM –styleaugmented reality game, students use disinfecting wipes with the goal of preventing germs from getting past them.

We have also developed the Lysol Healthy Habits contest, where you can enter your school for a chance to win one of three school grants valued at $15,000, $5,000 and $1,000, a year’s supply of Lysol Disinfecting Wipes, a Healthy Habits Day Celebration and a visit from the Healthy Habits Bus.  Please visit to learn more about the Healthy Habits Bus, and visit for details and information about how to enter the Healthy Habits Contest!

We hope you to see you soon!

Conor O’Brien is the Marketing Director at Lysol. He drives Lysol’s Mission for Health campaign, a program focused on educating communities across the country on the importance of healthy habits and good hygiene practices.

Dr. Maya Angelou: Remembering One of the Most Influential Authors, Teachers of Our Time

Maya AngelouOn May 28, the world said goodbye to one of the most influential poets, authors, teachers and philanthropists of our time, Dr. Maya Angelou.

National PTA had the honor of having her as a speaker at the association’s 2008 National Convention. Her passion for education, and the wellbeing of all children, was remarkable and steadfast.

Dr. Angelou was known for her countless works of literature that told not only her own life stories, but uplifted and inspired people around the globe. In addition to being an author for such poems as “Phenomenal Woman,” “Still I Rise” and numerous books, she was also an actress, professor and humanitarian. President Barack Obama awarded her the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2011.

I can remember reading her autobiography, “I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings,” as a child and the lasting impact her story made on my life. I also will never forget watching her in the American epic, “Roots.” She was an awesome actress who always played positive and invigorating roles.

It is with a saddened heart that everyone at National PTA says farewell to the true epitome of a phenomenal woman, Dr. Maya Angelou.

Otha Thornton is president of National PTA.