Schedule your free consultation today.

  • This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.
  • This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.

All fields are required



(833) 330-3663

Back2School Food Safety

Posted in Food Safety,Our Blog on August 19, 2023

It is that glorious time of year when the house is quiet again and a week’s worth of snacks lasts more than 2 days. Kids are back in school. That means they aren’t devouring everything in your fridge and are now somehow managing to survive on their packed lunches or cafeteria fare. How will they survive?!

If your kid snubs their nose at the school’s offerings, you are likely trying to come up with food options for your kiddo to take to school. There is more to consider than simply the decision of sandwich or lunchable. Your packaging decisions could mean the difference between a happy meal and a trip to the nurse’s office.

Foodborne Illness

The Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) says foodborne illnesses cause 128,000 hospitalizations and 3,000 deaths in the U.S. every year. “Young children are a group of the population particularly susceptible to foodborne illness, and serious foodborne illness,” Deputy Under Secretary for Food Safety at the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Sandra Eskin said.

Bacteria can grow when food reaches temperatures in the “Danger Zone.” This is between 40 and 140 °F. In this temperature zone, harmful bacteria are in their happy space. They wake up and have perfect conditions to multiply rapidly. The best way to minimize risk is to keep cold foods cold and hot foods hot.

We Ask A lot of Our Lunch Bags

Millions of Americans carry “bag” lunches to school or work. While most people don’t give it a second thought, your lunch bag and how you pack it could be setting you up for serious foodborne risk.

Your child’s lunch goes on quite a journey.

It must be kept cold (or hot) on the way to school whether transported by bus, bike, foot, or car and then remain cold (or hot) until it is time to eat. Most schools do not have refrigerators for children to store their lunches, so the lunch box or bag has to do all of the work.

Packing Tips for Safe Lunches

A few simple steps could make a huge difference in packed lunch safety.

  • Pack only what can be eaten at lunchtime.
    • Pack only the amount of perishable food that your child will likely eat at lunchtime. It is a huge “ask” to expect your portable cold source to continue keeping perishable food cold and safe for the trip back home. Discard any leftover food and single use packaging/bags to avoid contaminating other food.
  • Pack lunches right before leaving home.
    • Preparing food the day before can help save time in the morning, but be sure to pack food in lunch bags right before you leave. Freezing sandwiches is a great way to keep them cold, but those containing mayonnaise, lettuce, or tomatoes may not be so appealing once they thaw.
  • Select lunch boxes/bags carefully.
    • Choose insulated soft-sided lunch boxes or bags. Cold food stored in an insulated bag will keep cold longer, but an additional ice source is important. That insulation will help your ice source stay cold.
  • Sandwich that sandwich.
    • Choosing the “sandwich method” of lunch packing helps control the temperature. I’m not talking about bread stuffed with deli meat. I mean placing an icepack on the bottom and another on top of the food to ensure the cold sources work together to keep the food cold.
    • Frozen gel packs (not smaller than 5×3 each) are great. Combining a frozen gel pack with a frozen water bottle or frozen juice box will keep the lunch nice and cool.
  • Refrigerate lunch bag upon arrival if available.
    • It is unlikely that a refrigerator is an option for food storage once your child arrives at school. But if it is, instruct them to open the lunch bag so that the cold air can keep the food cold.
  • Plan the night before.
    • Freeze ice packs overnight to ensure they are completely frozen for lunches the next day.
    • Prepare cooked food the day before and refrigerate so that it can be chilled to refrigerated temperatures before packed in the lunch box/bag. Divide larger amounts of food into shallow containers to allow for faster chilling.
  • Prepare thermos for hot foods.
    • Use insulated containers to store hot foods such as chili, soup, or stew. Before packing the food, fill the container with boiling water and let it stand for a few minutes. This helps to preheat the container and give it a head start to keep it hot. Empty the water and put in the food as hot as possible.
    • Instruct your child to keep the insulated container closed until lunchtime to ensure it stays safely hot.

Image Credit:

Food Safety Starts with Preparation

Safe school lunches start with safe preparation. That means buying safe food, separating raw meat from ready-to-eat foods in the shopping cart, transporting food safely home, storing it safely in the refrigerator taking care to keep raw meats and high-risk foods away from produce and prepared foods, preparing lunches safely, and storing them safely in the fridge until you are ready to pack them.

Keep everything clean. Before preparing or packing school lunches, be sure to wash your hands. Use soap and warm water for at least 20 seconds. Start with clean cutting boards, dishes, utensils, and countertops and clean again after you are done. Keep family pets away from kitchen counters.

Avoid cross contamination. It is always best to use separate cutting boards for fresh produce and meat/poultry. Stores even sell color coded cutting boards to reduce the risk of contamination. If this is not available, be sure the cutting board is clean between using it for different types of food. This is particularly important when using the cutting board to cut foods like bread, lettuce, and tomatoes that will not be cooked.

Track Food Recalls

Pay attention to news stories or better yet, go to the source. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) publishes current recalls on their “Recalls, Market Withdrawals, & Safety Alerts” page. Check your kitchen regularly to be sure you aren’t including food that has been recalled for safety concerns in your child’s lunch.

You can also follow the Make Food Safe Blog to learn about recall and outbreak news as well as safety tips to help keep your family safe.

By: Heather Van Tassell