Advice for Packing School Lunches
(USDA/FSIS) Although millions buy lunch at school cafeterias, millions more bring their lunch in the familiar paper bag or lunch box.
"Now is the time for students to not only learn their ABC's, but also food safety basics when bringing lunch to school," says Bessie Berry, Manager of the U.S. Department of Agriculture's nationwide, toll-free Meat and Poultry Hotline. "Safe 'bag' lunches are as important as learning math and science. In fact, food safety is a science."
Berry said that by following some simple food safety rules, students can avoid getting sick from a lunch that was not handled properly. Here are some basic tips for carrying a safe lunch to school:
Keep Foods Clean
Keep everything clean when packing the lunch. That not only goes for the food, but also food preparation surfaces, hands and utensils. Use hot, soapy water. Keep family pets away from kitchen counters. Wash your hands before you prepare or eat food.
Keep Cold Foods Cold
The best way to keep food cold is with an insulated lunch box. When packing lunches, include either freezer gel packs widely available in stores or cold food items such as fruit, or small frozen juice packs. Nestle perishable meat, poultry or egg sandwiches between these cold items. Sandwiches can also be made ahead of time and kept refrigerated or frozen before placing in the lunch box.
Freezer gel packs will hold cold foods until lunch time, but generally will not work for all-day storage. "Any perishable leftovers after lunch should be discarded and not brought home," Berry advises.
Instead of the insulated lunch box, can brown paper bags or plastic lunch bags be used to store cold foods? "These are OK, but do not work as well as insulated lunch boxes because the bags tend to become soggy and do not retain the cold as well," Berry explains. "If you must use paper or plastic lunch bags, create layers by double bagging to help insulate the food." Also, control the environment where the lunch bag or box is kept at school to help keep foods cold. Keep out of direct sunlight and away from radiators or other heat sources.
Keep Hot Foods Hot
Foods like soup, chili and stew need to stay hot. Use an insulated bottle stored in an insulated lunch box. Fill the bottle with boiling water, let stand for a few minutes, empty, and then put in the piping hot food. Keep the insulated bottle closed until lunch to keep the food hot.
For More Information
For more information on packing safe lunches for school (and yes, work, too!) call the toll-free nationwide Meat and Poultry Hotline at 1-800-535-4555. In the Washington, D.C. area, the number is 202- 720-3333. The Hotline is open Monday through Friday from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., Eastern Time, year-round.