Whether it’s off to school or work, millions of Americans carry “bag” lunches. Food brought from home can be kept safe if it is first handled and cooked properly. Then, perishable food must be kept cold while commuting via bus, bicycle, on foot, in a car, or on the subway. After arriving at school or work, perishable food must be kept cold until lunchtime.
Bacteria that cause foodborne illness, commonly known as food poisoning, grow rapidly at temperatures between 40° -140°F. In just 2 hours, these microorganisms can multiply to dangerous levels, which can cause foodborne illness.
To make sure school lunches and snacks are safe for those you pack for, you should follow the four steps to food safety: Clean – Separate – Cook – and Chill.
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- If the lunch/snack contains perishable food items like luncheon meats, eggs, cheese, or yogurt, make sure to pack it with at least two cold sources. Harmful bacteria multiply rapidly so perishable food transported without an ice source won’t stay safe long.
- Frozen juice boxes or water can also be used as freezer packs. Freeze these items overnight and use with at least one other freezer pack. By lunchtime, the liquids should be thawed and ready to drink.
- Pack lunches containing perishable food in an insulated lunchbox or soft-sided lunch bag. Perishable food can be unsafe to eat by lunchtime if packed in a paper bag.
- If packing a hot lunch, like soup, chili or stew, use an insulated container to keep it hot. Fill the container with boiling water, let stand for a few minutes, empty, and then put in the piping hot food. Tell children to keep the insulated container closed until lunchtime to keep the food hot – 140 °F or above.
- If packing a child’s lunch the night before, parents should leave it in the refrigerator overnight. The meal will stay cold longer because everything will be refrigerator temperature when it is placed in the lunchbox.
- If you’re responsible for packing snack for the team, troop, or group, keep perishable foods in a cooler with ice or cold packs until snack time. Pack snacks in individual bags or containers, rather than having children share food from one serving dish.
- If possible, a child’s lunch should be stored in a refrigerator or cooler with ice upon arrival. Leave the lid of the lunchbox or bag open in the fridge so that cold air can better circulate and keep the food cold.
Eating and Disposal Tips
- Pack disposable wipes for washing hands before and after eating.
- After lunch, discard all leftover food, used food packaging, and paper bags. Do not reuse packaging because it could contaminate other food and cause foodborne illness.
¡De regreso a clases! Envíe a sus niños (as) de regreso a la escuela con almuerzos salubres y sabrosos siguiendo nuestros consejitos.
Back to school! To send their children back to school with lunches, wholesome and tasty following our tips.
Keeping “Bag” Lunches Safe (USDA)
Safe handling recommendations to prevent foodborne illness from “bag” lunches.