It’s National Food Safety Education Month! Stop Foodborne Illness offers tips for ensuring safe school lunches

Packing safe school lunches

Keeping harmful pathogens out of the lunch box should be a goal of every parent. When packing your child’s lunch with food safety in mind, Stop Foodborne Illness suggests you:

  • Wash your hands. When preparing lunches, Stop Foodborne Illness emphasizes the importance of washing your hands thoroughly, as well as keeping all the surfaces you’re working on clean.
  • Encourage your child to wash their hands , before AND after eating their lunch. Hand-washing with soap and water is best, but a hand sanitizer or wipe with 60% alcohol will work in a pinch.
  • Keep in mind the bacteria danger zone. The temperature “danger zone” of 40°-140° F is where bacteria grow most rapidly.​
  • Use an insulated lunch box . Whether hard-sided or soft, this helps keep cold foods cold and hot foods hot until it’s time to eat them. Food safety experts agree: This is a “must have” item. Using an insulated box will help keep your child’s food out of the bacteria “danger zone.”
  • Hot: Use an insulated thermos . Hot foods like soups, chili, or mac and cheese stay hot until lunch. You can preheat your thermos by filling it with boiling water, letting it sit for a few minutes, pouring out the water, and then adding your hot food.
  • Hot: Pack foods while hot . Don’t wait for hot foods to cool down before packing. Instead, pour piping hot foods like soups immediately into an insulated thermos.
  • Cold: Freeze drinks before packing . Freezing milk and juice boxes, and water bottles will help keep the drinks cold, along with other cold foods you’ve packed. Frozen items will slowly melt during morning classes and be ready for drinking at lunch.
  • Cold: Use ice packs . Another “great idea,” according to Stop Foodborne Illness, these inexpensive items are an alternative to freezing drinks, and are vital for keeping cold foods cold. You can pick them up for about $1 each.
  • Wash and separate fresh fruits/veggies . Stop Foodborne Illness recommends washing produce thoroughly before packing in plastic containers to keep them away from other foods. After washing, dry produce with a clean cloth towel or paper towel to further reduce bacteria that may be present on the surface.
  • Use individual snack packs . If many hands are in and out of a “family size” bag, the potential for exposure to bacteria is greater. To help prevent the spread of germs for school lunches, Stop recommends using individual-sized servings of items like pretzels, chips, and cookies.
  • Add room-temperature-safe foods . Use nonperishable items or foods that do not need refrigeration like peanut butter, jelly, cookies, crackers, chips, dried fruit and certain whole fruits.
  • Avoid putting food on bare tables. Pack a paper towel or napkin, or some wax paper so that when kids are in the cafeteria, or common area, they can avoid putting their food on the table.
  • Explain the five-second myth . Be sure your child knows that the “Five-second rule” is a myth. Any food that touches the floor needs to be thrown away. (No one wants to lick the bottom of your shoe.)
  • Toss perishable food. To avoid foodborne illness, let your child know it is OK to throw away perishables like meat, poultry or egg sandwiches, if not eaten at lunchtime. Unopened, room-temperature-safe foods and uneaten fruit can be kept.
  • Make sure lunch boxes are regularly cleaned and sanitized. We recommend you clean your child’s box each evening before packing the next day’s lunch. Find out more with these box cleaning tips.