Packing A Safe School Lunch
If you take a lunch to school, it is important to know what to do to keep your food safe. Some foods need special attention, like milk, meats and cheeses. These foods can make you sick if bacteria are allowed to grow on them.

Bacteria are usually one-celled organisms that can only be seen with a microscope. Bacteria are everywhere, in the air on the ground, on our bodies and on your pets. Normally, bacteria will not hurt you. But if bacteria are allowed to grow on your food, it can make you sick! Use the following tips to help you keep your school lunch safe.

Keep Foods Clean
  • Keep everything clean when packing the lunch. Use hot, soapy water to clean hands, clean preparation surfaces, and clean utensils. Keep family pets away from kitchen counters. Wash your hands before you prepare or eat food.

Keep Cold Foods Cold
  • Use an insulated lunch box to help keep foods cold. You can also use a thermos to keep milk or juice cold until lunchtime.
  • Use freezer gel packs that are widely available in stores. If you cannot get freezer gel packs, a fun trick is to freeze a juice box overnight and put that into your lunch box next to your sandwich. That way, your sandwich will not get too warm and you still have a cold drink at lunchtime!
  • Freeze your sandwiches. This works better with coarse-textured breads that won't get soggy when they thaw. The sandwich will be thawed by the time you eat lunch, and it keeps everything else in the lunch box cold. (If you like lettuce, tomato and mayonnaise on your sandwich, pack those separately. They do not freeze well, and you may not like the taste when they thaw!)

  • Keep your lunch in the coolest place possible! If you have a refrigerator at school, put your lunch in there. If not keep it out of the sun and away from the heat.
  • Pack shelf-stable foods, especially if you have a brown paper bag lunch. These food items include fresh fruits and vegetable, cookies, crackers, peanut butter sandwiches, canned meats, shelf-stable cheeses, packaged pudding, and canned fruits and juices.
Keep Hot Foods Hot
  • Use a thermos to keep soup, chili and stew hot. Use an insulated bottle stored in an insulated lunch box. Ask your parents to fill the bottle with boiling water, let stand for a few minutes, empty, and then put in the piping hot food. Keep the insulated bottle closed until lunch to keep the food hot.

Make sure you wash your hands before you eat your lunch. Any perishable leftovers after lunch should be discarded and not brought home.
For More Information
For more information on packing safe lunches for school (and yes, work, too!) call the toll-free nationwide Meat and Poultry Hotline at 1-800-535-4555. The Hotline is open Monday through Friday from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., Eastern Time. Also, an extensive selection of timely food safety recordings are available 24 hours a day, every day, by using a touch-tone phone and the "user-friendly" menu which prompts callers.

Helpful food safety information is now available on the Internet. The USDA Food Safety and Inspection Service Home Page address is

For further information about food protection, please contact the Resource Management Environmental Health Division, (707) 784-6765.