Food For Thought: Lunchbox Safety – How not to poison your children or yourself at lunchtime

Last year a study was conducted in Texas on 705 preschoolers’ lunches. Some of those lunches had ice packs (45%) and some had none. However, 88% of the lunches were at room temperature. That is scary stuff, folks! Only 1.6% of perishable items in those little ones’ lunch boxes were kept in the safe zone recommended by the USDA.

So what steps can you take to keep those lunches as safe as you possibly can?

Here are some tips for you to pack away with you!

Keep perishables cold

I know this goes without saying, but you really need to keep those lunchbox items good and cold. I mean super cold. Here’s how you do that.

• Buy insulated lunch bags that are clearly marked “lead-free”
• Use two or three frozen gel packs in the lunch bag if using highly perishable food items. Place one in the bottom of the bag, one on the side, and another over the top of the items.
• Refrigerate those lunch box items before you go to bed and give them a few solid hours of cold before packing them in the morning
• Freeze the juice box you plan to add to the lunch bag to add extra cooling power

Foods to never keep at room temperature

If you aren’t 100% positive that you can’t keep the following food items cold, you’d be better off not packing them:

• Chicken salad, tuna salad, egg salad…anything that’s salad-based.
• Meat of any kind
• Anything with mayo

Keep warm foods warm

If you pack pasta, soup, pancakes, or other foods that should be kept warm, make sure they’re in a hot thermos. Add really hot tap water or water from a boiling kettle to the thermos and let it get good and warm (with the lid on) before you add the heated-up food to it and sending it off to school. If you do that it should be kept in the safe zone until lunchtime.

Foods safe without refrigeration

There are lots of foods that you can put in those lunches that will be safe without any refrigeration, though I would still add an ice pack. Here are some safe items:

• Whole fruits and vegetables
• Hard cheese
• Peanut butter (if the school allows it)
• Canned meat or fish
• Whole-grain crackers

Other lunchbox safety tips

Besides the actual container itself (which should be lead-free see my post from last week here), choose BPA-free water bottles and food containers.

Of course, you wash out those used food containers with hot soapy water, but be sure to wash out the lunch bag itself. Lots of nasty stuff can end up in there while (and after) your little one is eating their lunch.

PS–Now that you have the lunchbox safety tips, how about some ideas for food to put in them? Subscribe to Dinner Answers today to begin receiving weekly menus delivered right to your email inbox!

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