Whether you are back to school or work, packing a meal can have some amazing benefits! Packed meals may be lower in calories and provide more essential nutrients, such as fiber, protein, vitamins, and minerals. Packing meals also saves money. It is important to remember lunch-box food safety when packing your meal. Follow these tips to prevent being ill when eating on the go.
- Keep cold food below 40°F and hot food above 140°F.
- Use an insulated lunch box. Some food is safe without a cold source, like whole fruits and vegetables, canned meat and fish, and peanut butter.
- For perishable foods, keep foods cold by including at least two cold sources. Use two frozen gel packs or combine a frozen gel pack with a frozen juice box, fruit cup, or frozen bottled water. Place cold sources on top and bottom of perishable food items, including lunch meats, eggs, cheese, yogurt, and milk.
- Clean your lunch box or bag regularly to avoid bacteria growing on the sides.
Source: USDA Food Safety and Inspection Service, www.fsis.usda.gov/
When making a bag or box lunch for yourself or your child, don’t forget to play it safe! Food that travels from one place to another is likely to stay outside of the refrigerator for more time than the food you serve at home. Therefore, the bacteria that cause foodborne illness have a better chance of growing rapidly in a bag lunch.
Use the Right Container
Gone are the days of a “brown bag” lunch. Choose insulated lunch bags and boxes to keep cold food cold. The lunch container should have enough space so that you can always fit in a reusable freezer pack or a plastic bottle filled with ice. Make sure the bag or box can easily be washed daily with hot soap and water. A dishwasher-safe lunchbox or a bag that can be laundered is ideal. Wash lunch boxes and other lunch containers soon after coming home.
Wash, Wash, Wash!
Wash hands thoroughly for at least 20 seconds with soap and hot water before preparing any food for the lunchbox. Make sure that any utensil that comes in contact with the food has been thoroughly washed and sanitized. When eating away from home, many people forget to wash hands before eating. This allows germs the perfect chance to transfer to a sandwich or apple. Make it easy for you and your child to eat with clean hands by including hand sanitizer or wipes in the lunch bag.
For more ideas on protecting your family’s health when packing lunches, use the handout titled What’s for Lunch? It’s in the Bag! available at store.extension.iastate.edu/Product/PM3026.