Food Safety for School Lunches

Pack a Safe Lunch

Although many students buy lunch at school cafeterias, many more bring their lunch in the familiar lunch bag or lunch box. By following some simple food safety rules, students can avoid getting sick from a lunch that was not handled or stored properly. Some basic tips for keeping school lunches safe:

Keep Cold Foods Cold (colder than 4°C or 40°F)

Freezer gel packs will keep perishable (easy-to-spoil) foods cold and safe from early morning until lunchtime. You can buy these packs at supermarkets or department stores. When packing lunches, take frozen gel packs from the freezer and place them next to perishable foods, such as, meats, poultry, fish or egg sandwiches. Gel packs will not usually keep perishable foods cold past lunchtime, so throw out the leftovers.

An insulated lunch box or bag helps to keep cold foods cold and hot foods hot. You can also use frozen gel packs or other cold foods like fruit or frozen juice boxes to help keep foods cold. Sandwiches can be made the night before and kept frozen or refrigerated before being packed in the lunch box or bag.

Keep Foods Clean

Keep everything clean when packing the lunch. Food preparation surfaces, hands and utensils should be cleaned with warm, soapy water before and after preparing foods. Wash fruits and vegetables properly. Keep family pets away from kitchen counters. Do not reuse wax, foil or plastic to wrap foods.

Keep Hot Foods Hot (hotter than 60°C or 140°F)

Foods like soup, chili and stew need to stay hot. These foods should be put in an insulated container inside an insulated lunch box. Fill the container with boiling water and let stand for a few minutes. Empty the water and put hot food in the container. Keep the insulated container closed until lunchtime to keep food hot.

NOTE: Read the manufacturer's labels to be sure the insulated container can hold hot foods.

Brown paper bags and plastic lunch bags are okay too but do not work as well as an insulated lunch box because the bags become soggy, leak or break as frozen items thaw. Using an extra paper or plastic bag to create a double layer may help.

NOTE: Whether you use a lunch box, paper or plastic bag, put them in a cool place in the hall or classroom, out of direct sunlight and away from radiators or other sources of heat.

High Risk Foods

Foods that may become unsafe if not handled or stored properly

Low Risk Foods

Foods that are generally safe

Note: Please follow school policies on food allergies.

Important Points to Remember

Keep cold foods cold.

Keep hot foods hot.

Follow school policies on food allergies.

Adapted from Consumer Education and Information, U.S.D.A., Food Safety Inspection Service
Produced by Environmental Health Division, Durham Region Health Department July 2009