Keeping Back to School Lunches Safe

July 30, 2010

It’s time to figure out what to pack in those brown bags again

It’s time to figure out what to pack in those brown bags again – back-to-school season is upon us and although it might be important to some kids how fashionable their lunch carriers are, parents need to keep food safety in mind.

To prevent food-related illness, it’s important to watch the temperature of foods. Harmful bacteria grow best between 40 degrees F and 140 degrees F, so it's important to keep perishable foods outside this danger zone as much as possible. Since most children aren’t know for paying close attention to food safety issues – it’s critical that you are aware of the storage issues for you child’s food once they arrive at school to be sure the carrier you are providing keeps food at the proper temperature until meal time.

The good news, in our view at - it takes little more effort to instill better dietary and safe food handling behaviors in children than it does to send children to school with processed meats and chips. Keeping safe is a mentality that will serve youth well as they learn to manage their environments and eating habits growing up. Here are some quick food safety tips:

To maintain lunch food at a cool temperature, pack a frozen juice box or water bottle in an insulated lunch bag; you can also use a freezable gel pack. Try to position the coldest item at the top of the bag since cool air settles.

Hot foods can be a real challenge in a lunch box. In many cases, it is difficult to maintain a high enough temperature. If you want to try sending soup or similar foods, do a "dry run" at home. Pre-warm an insulated Thermos container (following the manufacturer's instructions), then fill with the hot food. Seal the container and let it sit until about an hour before your child's lunch time, then open it and measure the temperature of the food. If the food is below 140 degrees F, food may not be safe to eat by lunch time.

Be aware of food hazards. Some common lunch foods pose health hazards than you might not expect. Peanuts are a good example. Children who are allergic to peanuts can have a life-threatening reaction to even microscopic amounts. This is why some schools have banned foods that contain peanuts. Unfortunately, many processed foods contain trace amounts of peanuts, even if they aren't listed on the ingredient label. If your child attends school with a youngster who has a peanut allergy, be sure to pay attention to any guidelines given to you by the school.