Reviewed and updated by Andrew McCullough, Food Science Student and HGIC Intern, Clemson University, 01/17. Originally reviewed and adapted for use in South Carolina by P.H. Schmutz, HGIC Food Safety 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.
Packing a school lunch box.
Adair Hoover, ©2017 HGIC, Clemson Extension
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. If packing for children, it is best to pack sanitary wipes that the child can use before and after they eat their lunch.
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 or bag. When packing lunches, include either freezer gel packs or cold food items such as small frozen juice packs or frozen bottles of water. At least two cold sources should be used when packing perishable foods in an insulated lunchbox. When packing, place one cold source at the bottom of the lunchbox, the perishable foods, and then the other cold source on top. Sandwiches can also be made ahead of time and kept refrigerated or frozen before placing in the lunch box, but to maintain high quality, sandwich ingredients such as mayonnaise, lettuce and tomatoes should not be frozen. These items should be added later.
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. If using an insulated lunchbox, leave the lid of the lunchbox open so that cold air from the refrigerator can circulate through it. 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 (at or above 140 ºF).Microwave Reheating
If you use the microwave to reheat your lunch, make sure that you cover the container so that the food will be heated evenly. The food should be reheated to an internal temperature of at least 165 ºF for safety.
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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