During the school year, many parents have the extra task of packing school lunches for their children. Some adults are also taking their lunches to work to save money and limit the extra calories, fat and sodium of fast food meals. To ensure that all family members enjoy a lunch that won’t put them at risk for food poisoning, follow these suggestions.
When it’s time to handle food for a packed lunch, remember to always keep it clean. Wash 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. Dry hands with a disposable paper towel and use the paper towel to turn off the water. This will lessen the risk of recontaminating clean hands with germs left on faucet handles or dish towels.
If the lunch includes perishable items like sandwiches, leftovers and fresh vegetables and some fresh fruits, keep them chilled to reduce the risk of foodborne illness. Insulated, soft-sided lunch totes are best for keeping perishable foods chilled. A cold source, such as a small frozen gel pack or frozen juice box, should be packed with perishable foods. Frozen gel packs will keep foods cold until lunchtime, but are not recommended for all-day storage. To save time during the morning rush, sandwiches or other perishable items can be prepared the night before. Just store perishable lunch items in the refrigerator until you are ready to leave for school or work.
Crackers, packaged pudding and other shelf-stable items will be safe at room temperature. 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. 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.
After lunch, throw out all used food packaging and perishable leftovers. Do not reuse plastic bags as they could contaminate other foods leading to foodborne illness. If one is available, use the refrigerator at work or school to keep food chilled and safe. If not, make sure to keep the lunch out of direct sunlight and away from other heat sources.
Article by Danna Gillett, retired Area Nutrition Agent for LSU AgCenter. Contact your local extension office for more information.
The LSU AgCenter and the LSU College of Agriculture