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Texas A&M AgriLife—
It’s back-to-school time, which means it’s time to talk about everyone’s favorite period of the day – lunch.
Lorrie Coop, Family and Community Health agent with Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service, recommends following these tips to ensure that whatever you send in your child’s lunchbox has been handled and stored safely until mealtime to prevent foodborne illness.
The #1 and easiest way to help prevent the spread of germs is to remind your children to wash their hands with warm, soapy water for 20 seconds and dry them with paper towels before eating.
Never use a paper bag to pack lunches or snacks for your child. Harmful bacteria multiply source will not stay safe for long.
If packing hot lunches, such as soups or stews, use a thermos or other insulated vessel. Pre-heat it with boiling water and let it sit for a few minutes before filling with heated food to make sure the contents will stay hot (above 140°F) until it can be consumed.
If lunch does consist of perishable food items, such as deli meats, cut fruits/veggies, yogurt, cheese, or mayonnaise, keep refrigerated until ready to pack so everything is super cold. Make sure to pack with at least two cold sources, such as a gel pack and a frozen juice box or water bottle. Perishable cold foods can become unsafe to eat if held above 40°F for two hours. (That safe time-period drops to one hour if temps reach above 90°F)
When in doubt, pack shelf-stable items. Items such as whole grain chips or crackers, pre- packaged puddings, single-serve or vacuum-packed tuna, nut butters, fried fruits, jerky, whole fruits, muffins, or granola all make good choices.
Personalize drink containers so they are easily recognizable to your child. Encourage them to not share food or drink with their friends, as this increases the likelihood of contamination.
Finally, instruct your child wash their hands and throw away any leftover food and packaging immediately after the meal to prevent the spread of bacteria. Wipe out lunchboxes daily and wash weekly with soapy water, or more often if needed.