Written by guest blogger – Michael Rich, Safety Services Company

Packing your own lunch is not only an economical solution to soothing midday hunger pains, but can prove a more nutritious and tasty option.

However, before shoving your favorite goodies into a brown paper sack it is important to learn how to pack safely to prevent food borne illnesses.

Packed lunches are often kept at room temperature for 4-6 hours, which can lead to the growth of harmful bacteria.

Harmful bacteria prefer certain type of food, especially those high in protein and moisture, such as meat, fish, poultry, eggs and milk. These types of food are designated as potentially hazardous.

If you want to include these types of foods in your packed lunch it is important to keep them cold, below 45 F, or hot, above 140 F.

Keeping Cold

The best way to keep your food cold is to place it in the refrigerator immediately after reaching school. Unfortunately most schools don’t allow students to use the refrigerator.

To work around this draw back here are a few things you can do to keep food is to freeze it the night before so it slowly thaws and is ready to eat by lunch time.
Most sandwiches freeze well if they are frozen in plastic bags designed for freezing. In addition to freezing the sandwich you can freeze drinks or desert items. Also you can put ice packs in your bag or use an insulated lunch bag.
These frozen items will help keep temperatures of other items in the bag down. If you want to bring milk or another cold drink, put an empty cold thermo in the freezer the night before and fill it before leaving to school.
Don’t try to freeze veggies or fruit though.

Staying Hot

The safest way to maintain hot foods such as stews, soups, or chili is to use a hot holding thermos. Check to make sure that the thermos has a tight seal and does not leak. Some thermoses are made specifically for hot or cold foods, but not for both. Check the thermos instructions for more information.

Soups should come to a rolling boil before being placed in the thermos. This should be done just before the child leaves for school. The steam should still be visible when the container is opened. Rinsing the thermos first with boiling water will keep the soup even warmer.
No Worry Items
While many items in the lunch bag are tasty treats to bacteria, the little critters do not like to devour foods that are high in acid or low in moisture. Foods that can safely be left at room temperature for 4-6 hours include:

– nuts and peanut butter
– bread, cookies, crackers, and cake
– jam, honey, syrup, and candy
– butter, margarine, and cooking oil
– dry cereals
– powdered milk (until reconstituted)
– raw, cooked, or dry fruit
– raw vegetables
– pickles, relishes, mustard, and ketchup
– dry or hard cheeses
– yogurt
– dried sausages, such as salami, pepperoni, and jerky
– canned foods (until opened)
– fruit pies