Six simple guidelines to make sure your packed lunches are safe

Keep your packed lunches safe by following simple guidelines to avoid foodborne illnesses.

Every day, lunches are packed for school or work. Any food brought from home can be kept safe if it is handled and cooked properly. According to Michigan State University Extension, it is important to keep perishable food cold until you are ready to eat it.

Why is it so important to keep perishable food cold? Harmful bacteria multiply rapidly between temperatures of 40 F and 140 F. Food that is transported without a cold source will not stay safe long.

Here are safe handling recommendations from the United States Department of Agriculture Food Safety and Inspection Service to prevent foodborne illness from packed lunches.

  1. Pack just the amount of perishable food that can be eaten at lunchtime. That way, there won’t be a problem about the storage or safety of leftovers. After lunch, discard all leftover food and used food packaging. Do not reuse packaging because it could contaminate other food and cause foodborne illness.
  2. It’s fine to prepare the food the night before. You may want to put food in individual containers or bags for easy packing in the morning. Freezing sandwiches helps them stay cold. However, for best quality, don’t freeze sandwiches containing mayonnaise, lettuce or tomatoes. Add these later.
  3. Insulated, soft-sided lunch boxes or bags are best for keeping food cold, but pack at least two ice sources with perishable food in any type of lunch bag or box you use. You can use two frozen gel packs (no smaller than 5 inches x 3 inches each) or combine a frozen gel pack with a frozen juice box or frozen bottle of water. When packing your bag lunch, place the gel packs on the top and bottom of the perishable food items.
  4. If there’s a refrigerator available at work, store perishable items there. If you place your insulated bag in the refrigerator, leave the lid or bag open so that cold air can keep the food cold.
  5. Some food is safe without a cold source. Items that don’t require refrigeration include whole fruits and vegetables, hard cheese, canned meat and fish, chips, breads, crackers, peanut butter, jelly, mustard, and pickles.
  6. Throw out any food that is not eaten and brought home. These foods have been in the temperature danger zone for too long and may contain foodborne illness causing bacteria.

Follow these food safety guidelines to ensure a safe packed lunch.

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