Pack a Safe Lunch
Following a few simple food safety rules when packing lunches – and teaching your children to do the same – can help to prevent unwanted foodborne illness. Packing a lunch that will be safe when your child eats it, is just as important as packing healthy, nutritious foods.
Bacteria that cause food-borne illness multiply rapidly in the temperature danger zone (between 4°C and 60°C). Packed lunches are often kept 4-6 hours at room temperature, which falls within the temperature danger zone. In as little as 2 hours, hazardous foods kept at room temperature can grow enough bacteria to make a person sick and should be thrown out.
Foods that are safe at room temperature
Foods that are required to be kept cold
- Nuts and peanut butter
- Fresh fruits and vegetables
- Dried fruits and trail mix – if dried fruit is offered, encourage children to brush their teeth afterwards
- Dry and hard cheese
- Packaged milk-based puddings
- Whole grain crackers, dry cereal and cookies
- Meat, poultry and eggs
- Soups, salads and sandwiches containing hazardous foods
- Bean dip, hummus
- Milk, yogurt, and cheese
- Cooked pasta, rice, and other cooked grains or cereals
- Gravy, mayonnaise, butter
Check with your child’s school to see if any of these foods are not permitted according to their policies.
Keep hot foods hot
Many foods, like pizza or chili, can be served either hot or cold. If you decide to serve it hot, use an insulated container.
Tips for keeping hot food hot:
- Preheat an insulated container by filling it with boiling water and let stand for a few minutes.
- Remove water and fill the container with piping hot food (food that has been cooked and/or reheated to a temperature of at least 74°C).
- Instruct your child to keep the container closed until lunch time.
- If the food will be heated in a microwave, be sure it is kept cold until time to reheat it. Use only microwave safe containers.
Keep cold foods cold
Hazardous foods are foods that are able to support the growth of harmful disease-causing organisms or the production of toxins, which cause food-borne illness. Examples include meats, poultry, dairy products and cooked rice.
Tips for keeping cold food cold:
- Use insulted lunch bags or boxes, which include frozen re-usable ice bricks, gel packs or frozen juice boxes. If using paper bags, layer then to help insulate the food.
- Keep sandwiches refrigerated until they are packed to go or freeze them the night before.
- Explain to your child that lunches must be kept out of direct sunlight at school and away from radiators, baseboard heaters or heat vents in the classroom.
- If your child’s school has a refrigerator for lunches, use it.
Keep everything clean – this includes: hands, utensils, food preparation surfaces, as well as lunch boxes and lunch packs.
- Before preparing food, wash hands thoroughly.
- Make sure all containers, cutting boards and utensils are cleaned with warm soapy water, rinsed thoroughly and sanitized after each use.
- Prepared sandwiches on a clean plate or cutting board.
- Rinse fruits and vegetables well in running water. Use a scrub brush whenever possible. Dry thoroughly before packing.
- When the lunch box or bag returns home, clean and sanitize it inside and out. Wash the ice packs prior to refreezing them.
- Throw away any hazardous foods not eaten that day.
Food Safety and COVID-19
When packing your child’s lunch with COVID-19 in mind, all of the same food safely rules will apply. There are some additional considerations that schools have been putting in place to make the food environment at schools a safer place. The following are a few you should be aware of:
Water fountains will only be used to refill a water bottle. Drinking directly from the fountain will be restricted.
- Enforcement of a ‘no food sharing’ policy to not only prevent allergy spread, but also to minimize risk of contact between students.
- Removing self-service food items that are not prepackaged or that require tongs to be used by students.
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