Skip to main content

Get an A+ in Food Safety this School Year

Posted by Kenneth King, Public Affairs Specialist, FSIS Food Safety Education Staff in Food and Nutrition Health and Safety
Sep 09, 2021
A school lunch

As the school year kicks off, it’s time for a crash course in lunchbox food safety. Here’s a study guide to help you pass any food safety pop quizzes when packing lunches.

Clean — In a USDA study (PDF, 3 MB), 97 percent of participants in a test kitchen received an F for failing to wash their hands properly. Use this hand washing cheat sheet to get an A+:

  1. Wet your hands with warm soapy water.
  2. Lather your hands by rubbing them together with soap. Lather the backs of your hands, between your fingers and under your nails.
  3. Scrub your hands for at least 20 seconds.
  4. Rinse your hands under clean water.
  5. Dry your hands using a clean towel.

Cutting boards — In school we use chalk for blackboards, and markers for dry-erase boards. Meats and vegetables also need separate boards to avoid cross contamination. Use one cutting board for raw meats, and another for vegetables and fruits.

Packing lunch — Keep perishable foods like deli meats in an insulated lunchbox with a cold source, such as a frozen gel pack, water bottle or juice box. When packing lunch for the next day, place it in a refrigerator. Do not reuse packaging like resealable plastic bags as they can contaminate food.

Caution — Perishable foods can only be at room temperature for 2 hours. Never taste food to determine its safety. When in doubt, throw it out. While there may be substitute teachers, there’s never a substitute for food safety.

Follow the food safety study guide for more tips — Clean, Separate, Cook and Chill.

For more questions about food safety, contact the USDA’s Meat and Poultry Hotline at 1-888-MPHotline (1-888-674-6854) to talk to a food safety expert or chat live at from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Eastern Time, Monday through Friday.