Keep Bagged Lunches Safe

Posted: August 25, 2012

It’s back to school and time to pack lunches before heading for the school bus! When preparing bagged lunches, be sure to keep food safety in mind to prevent foodborne illness...

The length of time foods will be in the danger zone of 40-140 degrees F. should be a primary factor in deciding what foods will be included in the packed lunch. Foods such as whole fruits and vegetables, unopened canned meat and fish, chips, breads, crackers, peanut butter, jelly, mustard and pickles are fine at room temperature.

However, perishable foods like luncheon meat, pudding and yogurt should not be in the danger zone for more than 2 hours including preparation time without a cold source.

     Here are a few ideas for keeping a bagged lunch cold until lunchtime:

     * Use a vacuum bottle for foods that need to be kept cold such as milk and yogurt. Chill vacuum bottle in refrigerator before adding cold foods. 

     * Carry already chilled foods in an insulated lunch box or bag. An insulated lunch box will keep foods cold much longer than a paper bag. Include an ice pack or gel freezer pack. 

     * Start with chilled ingredients when making sandwiches. The sandwich will stay chilled longer.

     * If possible, have your child store his lunch in a refrigerator until lunchtime. Some sandwich fillings made with meat, poultry, fish, or egg can spoil if kept at room temperature for more than two hours. Be aware that the cold refrigerator air doesn't reach foods in an insulated lunch box or bag, so foods need to be removed or the box or bag opened.

     Hot foods can be kept hot by using a vacuum bottle. A stainless steel or glass lined vacuum bottle keeps food hotter than one that’s plastic lined. Preheat the bottle by filling it with clean hot water and letting it stand for a minute or two. Then empty and fill promptly with hot food.

     Keep everything clean including your hands, utensils and kitchen surfaces when preparing lunches. Wash hands for 20 seconds with warm soapy water before handling food. Wash fruits and vegetables under lukewarm running water. Wash utensils and containers with soap and hot water, and rinse after each use.

     Food safety is critical when carrying food to school. Follow these safe food handling tips to keep children safe and prevent foodborne illness.

Karen Thomas is a family and consumer sciences educator for Penn State Cooperative Extension of Lackawanna County.