Safe School Lunch Boxes

Reviewed by Eleese Cunningham, RDN
little girls looking at lunch box

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Download: Safe Lunch Tip Sheet.

To keep the "lunch box bug" called food poisoning out of children's school lunches, follow these tips from the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.

Wash Hands Often

  • Be sure to wash hands before, during and after preparing children's lunches.
  • Make sure the counter surface is clean and dry when preparing lunch to prevent germs from spreading to the food. Don't forget to make sure the lunch box is clean, too.
  • Teach children to wash their hands before digging into lunch. For extra protection, pack moist towelettes in the lunch box or bag.

Separate Raw Meats, Seafood, and Poultry from Ready-to-Eat Foods

  • At home, store fruits, vegetables and cooked and ready-to-eat meats for kids' lunches separately from raw meats.
  • To help prevent cross-contamination, keep a supply of shelf-stable foods that don't require much preparation or refrigeration such as crackers, fresh fruits, packaged puddings and canned fruits or meats.

Cook to Proper Temperatures

  • Pack hot foods like soup and chili in well-insulated, tightly sealed containers until ready to eat.
  • Instruct older children how to microwave a meal carefully according to package directions so that it reaches the proper internal temperature.

Refrigerate Promptly Below 40°F

  • Invest in an insulated lunch box or use double paper bags.
  • Find out if students have access to a refrigerator at school and instruct them to put lunches in the refrigerator as soon as they get to school. (Make sure children's lunches are clearly identified.)
  • If sending perishable foods for lunch (such as hard-boiled eggs, milk, yogurt, cheese or a sandwich with meat, chicken, turkey or tuna), include a frozen icepack to help keep them cold until lunchtime. A frozen individual juice box can help serve as a cold pack.
  • If packing a sandwich the night before, keep it in the refrigerator at below 40°F until your child leaves for school.
  • Instruct your child to throw away all perishable leftovers after lunch.

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