More than 50 million youth are expected to attend U.S. schools this fall, and a good portion will be taking their own lunches to school. To help parents and caregivers prepare to-go meals safely, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) offers some advice.
Homemade school lunches strive to contain healthy nutrients to fuel the day, but perishable lunches do the body no good if they cross over to the “Danger Zone” in poorly insulated bags with no cooling or heating option. If these lunches are kept in temperatures between 40 F and 140 F for more than two hours (or one hour when it’s 90 F outside), bacteria will multiply quickly and make food unsafe. Here are some tips:
- Use an insulated lunch bag. Avoid brown paper bags. Purchase an insulated bag and add a frozen gel pack and a frozen juice box or bottle of water to keep items at 40 F or below.
- Keep it hot. If soup, chili or stew is on the menu, use an insulated container to keep food heated. Fill the container with boiling water, let it stand for a few minutes, empty it, and then pour in the hot liquid meal. Keep the insulated container closed until lunchtime to keep items at 140 F or above.
- Choose non-refrigerated items. Include options that don’t require refrigeration in your child’s lunch, like whole fruits, raw and uncut vegetables, hard cheeses, unopened shelf stable meats and fish cans and pouches, chips, bread, crackers, peanut butter and jelly.
Learn how to keep meals safe with USDA’s Four Steps to Food Safety. For more information, contact the Meat and Poultry Hotline from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Eastern Time, Monday through Friday via:
- Phone: 1-888-MPHotline (1-888-674-6854)
- Email: MPHotline@usda.gov
- Live chat: ask.usda.gov
Want a reminder about safe internal temperatures for meat, poultry, fish and egg? Order a free USDA Kitchen Magnet.