This information has been reviewed and adapted for use in South Carolina by P.H. Schmutz, HGIC Information Specialist and E.H. Hoyle, Extension Food Safety Specialist, Clemson University. (New 01/99.)
Whether it is students taking lunch to school or adults packing lunch for work, millions will take "bag" lunches with them each day and will want to make sure their food is safe to eat. Follow these safety tips to avoid foodborne illnesses when eating from a lunch box or bag.
Keep everything clean when packing the lunch. That not only goes for the food, but also food preparation surfaces, hands and utensils. Use hot, soapy water. Keep family pets away from kitchen counters. Wash your hands before you prepare or eat food.
Bacteria grow and multiply rapidly in the danger zone between 40 ºF and 140 ºF. Keep lunches out of direct sunlight and away from radiators or other heat sources. Some foods that don’t require refrigeration and are great to include in a bag lunch are fruits, vegetables, hard cheese, unopened canned meat or fish, chips, bread, crackers, peanut butter, jelly, mustard and pickles.
The best way to keep food cold is with an insulated box. When packing lunches, include either freezer gel packs or cold food items such as small frozen juice packs. Nestle perishable meat, poultry or egg sandwiches between these cold items. Sandwiches can also be made ahead of time and kept refrigerated or frozen before placing in the lunch box.
Freezer gel packs will hold cold food until lunchtime, but generally will not work for all-day storage. Any perishable leftovers after lunch should be discarded and not brought home. Of course, if there’s a refrigerator at work, store perishable items there upon arrival. Leftover perishables that have been kept refrigerated should be safe to take home.
Brown paper bags or plastic lunch bags can also be used to store foods if you are not carrying perishable foods, but they do not work as well for cold foods. The bag tends to become soggy or leak as cold foods thaw, and the bags do not retain the cold as well as an insulated lunch box. If a freezer gel pack is being used in the paper bag, it will cause additional moisture as it melts. Wrap the freezer pack in plastic or foil and use an extra paper bag to create a double layer to help solve the problem.
Foods like soup, chili and stew need to stay hot. Use an insulated bottle stored in an insulated lunch box. Fill the bottle with boiling water, let stand for a few minutes, empty and then put in the piping hot food. Keep the insulated bottle closed until lunch to keep the foods hot.
Beverages not only quench your thirst, but some add important nutrients to your lunch. Therefore, consider not only taste but also nutrient content when you choose a beverage for your bag lunch.
A national survey has shown that children who buy hot lunches at school generally have a more nutritious lunch than children who take their lunch. To make the lunch you put in your child’s lunch box tempting as well as more nutritious, consider these tips.
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This information is supplied with the understanding that no discrimination is intended and no endorsement by the Clemson University Cooperative Extension Service is implied. All recommendations are for South Carolina conditions and may not apply to other areas. Use pesticides only according to the directions on the label. All recommendations for pesticide use are for South Carolina only and were legal at the time of publication, but the status of registration and use patterns are subject to change by action of state and federal regulatory agencies. Follow all directions, precautions and restrictions that are listed.