Of course, when I say school lunch box safety I am not talking about the box itself being dangerous. What I am referring to is keeping the food safe after it is packed in the lunch box. When you are choosing food for your kid’s school lunches, you might be more focused on finding food that is easy too pack or that your kids will eat; but you should also keep in mind how you can keep the food safe until your kids sit down at the lunch table.
When you pack your child’s lunch box, you will want to make sure you keep cold food cold and hot food hot. This is very important because dangerous bacteria can quickly grow on food that is not kept at a safe temperature. In just the few hours between the time your child leaves home in the morning until they sit down to eat lunch, the items inside their lunchbox can develop unsafe amounts of bacteria.
Here are some tips you can use to help keep your child’s school lunch safe:
Start out by getting your child an insulated lunch box. Perishable food, such as lunch meat and yogurt that is packed in a plain paper bag and stored at room temperature can become unsafe to eat in as few as two hours. An insulated lunch box will keep the food safer for much longer.
Add a chilled freezer gel pack to the lunch box. Better yet, use two chilled freezer gel packs. This will ensure the cold food stays at a safe temperature, which is below 40 degrees F. When packing your child’s lunch box, place the most perishable foods closest to the ice pack.
Prepare cold food the night before. This way, it sits in a cold refrigerator for several hours before it is packed in the lunchbox. As an added bonus, it will also save you some time in the morning!
If you give your child juice boxes in their lunch, freeze it first. You can then use this as a second freezer pack in the lunch box and it should be thawed and ready to enjoy by lunch time.
Make sure you keep hot foods hot. It is just as important to keep hot food hot as it is to keep cold food cold. The safe temperature for hot food is 140 degrees F. To keep food hot, use an insulated thermos or similar insulated container. When you are ready to pack to insulated thermos, consider filling it with boiling hot water for a few minutes and then dump the water out. Put the hot food in it immediately and put on the cover.
Take time to wash all fruits and vegetables. Wash them well and dry them before you pack them in a lunch box. You should also rinse off any fruits with peels or rinds like oranges and bananas as there is a chance of spread any bacteria that might be present when they are peeled.
Make sure you hands are clean before you prepare your child’s lunch. You should also encourage your child to wash their hands thoroughly before they eat lunch. If they will be someplace where they may not have access to soap and water, you may want to pack moist towelettes or hand sanitizer in their lunch box. Foodsafety.gov explains that “Washing hands thoroughly means using soap and warm water, and rubbing hands for 20 seconds (the time it takes to sing Happy Birthday twice).”
Never save leftover perishable food items. Throw away any food your child does not finish. Of course, this only goes for perishable foods. Non-perishable items, such as crackers and cookies, should be fine as they don’t have to be kept hot or cold.
Don’t try to recycle disposable packaging. As much as I love recycling, one thing that should never be recycled is plastic baggies or other containers that are meant to be used only once. Even washing these containers with hot soapy water may not make them germ-free and safe to use.
If you have any tips to share that are related to school lunch box safety, please feel free to share your comments below!
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