FoodSafety.gov is offering tips to parents and caregivers about packing safe back to school lunches. Bacteria that cause foodborne illness are everywhere. They grow quickly at temperatures between 40 and 140°F. In just two hours, the bacteria in foods can grow quickly enough to cause foodborne illness.
To keep your child safe and healthy, remember the four steps to food safety: Clean, Separate, Cook, and Chill. These rules must be followed to avoid food poisoning.
If the lunch you are packing contains perishable foods such as lunch meats, eggs, cheese, or yogurt, pack it with at least two cold sources. You can use frozen gel packs, frozen juice boxes, or frozen water. By lunchtime, the juice or water should be thawed and ready to drink.
Always use an insulated lunchbox or bag. A paper bag will not keep food cold enough so it is safe to eat after two hours, let alone the four or five hours from leaving the house to lunchtime.
If you are packing a hot lunch, use an insulated container. Fill the thermos with boiling water, let it stand for a few minutes, then empty it and immediately add the food that has been heated to at least 160°F. Tell your child to keep the thermos closed until lunchtime to keep the food hot and safe.
If you want to pack your child’s lunch the night before, keep the food in its containers in the refrigerator overnight. Put the food in the insulated lunchbox and leave it open so cold air can circulate around the food and keep it cool.
Pack disposable wipes for washing hands before and after eating. After lunch, tell your child to throw away all leftover food, including used food packaging and paper bags. Packaging such as paper bags and plastic bags should not be reused because it could have bits of food in it. That food could contaminate other foods and cause illness.