July 23, 2024

Packed Lunch Food Safety

As the new school year gets underway, parents need to know how to pack lunches safely. Food poisoning can be very serious for young children, so their food needs to be as safe as possible.

The FDA has more information about safe bag lunches.  Know that all perishable foods, including meat, poultry, seafood, dairy products, and eggs, should be kept cold at all times. Any of these foods should not be left at room temperature longer than 2 hours – 1 hour if the air temperature is over 90°F.


Wash your hands well with soap and water for at least 20 seconds before you start to prepare the food and pack the lunch. Sanitize a lunch box that hasn’t been used in a while by wiping it with a solution of 1 tablespoon liquid chlorine, unscented bleach in 1 gallon of water.

Advance planning is one way to help you get lunches ready efficiently with an eye on safety. You can prep fruits and vegetables the night before, and even make sandwiches ahead of time. Wrap them in plastic wrap or put them in ziplock bags and get them refrigerated until it’s time to pack the lunch box. Don’t put the prepared foods in the lunch until it’s time to leave the house. And if you do prepare food ahead of time, such as a pasta salad, make sure it has time to chill completely in the fridge before packing into the lunch.

A frozen water bottle or frozen ice pack must be in each lunch box to keep foods out of the danger zone of 40°F to 140°F. In fact, two sources of cold are even better; use both. Make sure that the lunch boxes you buy are insulated so they will keep the food inside cold.  If there’s a refrigerator at school, your kids can store the insulated bag there, but leave the lid or bag open so cold air can circulate around the food.

And the converse – keep hot lunches hot. A thermos or another insulated container can keep soup, chili, and stew hot. Fill the container with boiling water, let stand for a few minutes, empty, and put in the hot food.

Try to pack just the amount of food your child will eat.  But if there are leftovers, teach your kids the all leftover food should be thrown out after lunch. Insulated lunch boxes and bags can keep food cold, but they are not able to rechill foods to safe temperatures. Make sure that you clean out the lunchbox after each use.


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