Even though today’s insulated lunch boxes or bags do more to keep food safe, it still pays to be cautious when packing school lunches for your children. Here are some tips for packing a safe lunch:
- Keep bacteria at bay. Wash your hands with soap and warm water for at least 20 seconds before preparing any meal and remind children to do the same before they sit down for lunch. For extra protection, pack moist towelettes in their lunch box or insulated bag. Avoid introducing bacteria into a lunch when packing it by regularly cleaning and sanitizing your kitchen counter. And clean your child’s lunch box or insulated bag and make sure that it is completely dry before packing lunch.
- Protect perishables. Always use a cold pack when you are packing anything perishable, such as a sandwich with lunch meat or fresh cut fruit with a yogurt-based dip. Place perishable food right against the cold pack in an insulated bag. Cold packs are intended to keep food cold, not cool it down. If you make a sandwich in the morning, it’s unlikely the cold pack will be able to cool it sufficiently. Instead, make the sandwich the night before and refrigerate it to ensure the sandwich starts out – and stays – cool. Or simply choose foods that are not perishable, such as peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. Single-serving fruits in pre-packaged containers, such as applesauce or fruit cocktail, are also great options.
- Keep hot foods hot. If your child is taking hot soup or chili for lunch, pack it in an insulated bottle. Between uses, wash the bottle and rinse it with boiling water.
- Throw out the trash.
Pack only the amount of perishable food that your child can eat at lunch and ask them to throw out any leftovers. Don’t reuse packaging materials such as plastic bags or aluminum foil, as bacteria can grow on these wrappings, contaminate other foods and cause food borne illness.