Lunch-Packing Safety 101: Pointers for Parents


After a long summer hiatus, school lunch-packing season is in full swing. It’s time for shoppers to brush up on food safety basics to help avoid foodborne illness—a preventable public health challenge that causes an estimated 48 million illnesses and 3,000 deaths each year in the United States.

Give parents a refresher on these safety pointers from the Partnership for Food Safety Education’s Fight BAC! campaign.

  • When it’s time to handle food for your child’s lunch, remember to always keep it clean. Wash your hands with warm water and soap for at least 20 seconds before and after handling food. Use hot water and soap to make sure food preparation surfaces and utensils are clean.
  • Your child’s lunch could include perishable items (sandwiches, fresh fruit) and shelf-stable items (crackers, packaged pudding). Perishable items must be kept chilled to reduce risk of foodborne illness.
  • Rinse fresh fruits and vegetables under running tap water, including those with skins and rinds that are not eaten. Blot dry with a paper towel before packing them in your child's lunch.
  • You can prepare sandwiches or other perishable items the night before. Store lunch items in the refrigerator until your child is ready to go to school.
  • Insulated, soft-sided lunch totes are best for keeping perishable foods chilled. Pack perishable foods with a cold source, such as a small frozen gel pack or frozen juice box. Frozen gel packs will keep foods cold until lunchtime, but are not recommended for all-day storage.
  • Keep hot foods hot by using an insulated bottle. Fill the bottle with boiling water and let it stand for a few minutes. Empty the bottle and then fill it with piping hot food. Keep the bottle closed until lunchtime.
  • Make sure your child knows to throw out all used food packaging materials and perishable leftovers. Do not reuse plastic bags as they could contaminate other foods leading to foodborne illness.
  • Tell your child to use the refrigerator at school, if one is available. If not, make sure he or she keeps the lunch out of direct sunlight and away from radiators, baseboards and other heat sources in the classroom.

Keep lunch totes safe, too. Rinse out soft lunch boxes with water (for food debris), spray with a store-bought chlorine sanitizer or soap, rinse and let dry, says the Institute of Food Technologists. Throw away soft lunch boxes if the liner is cracked or broken.

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