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September 2, 2016
Back-To-School Food Safety Tips for Parents and Caregivers
Minimize risk of foodborne illness by properly packing lunches
Contact: Dawn Eischen, 804.786.1904

The new school year means it’s back to packing lunches and after school snacks for students, scouts, athletes and all the other children who carry these items to and from home. Food safety experts at the Virginia Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services remind parents that food preparation and storage is just as important to their family’s health as the food itself.

Bacteria that cause food poisoning grow rapidly at temperatures between 40 and 140 degrees Fahrenheit. From the time from food is packed to when it’s consumed, bacteria can multiply to dangerous levels if it wasn’t properly packed.

According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, foodborne illness causes an estimated 48 million illnesses and 3,000 deaths each year in the United States. Everyone is at risk for getting a foodborne illness. However, infants, young children, pregnant women and their unborn babies, older adults and people with weakened immune systems (such as those with HIV/AIDS, cancer, diabetes, kidney disease and transplant patients) are at greater risk for experiencing a more serious illness or even death. 

Reduce your family’s risk of foodborne illness by following these food safety tips:

Food Packing

  • If the lunch/snack contains perishable food items like luncheon meats, eggs, cheese or yogurt, make sure to pack it with at least two cold sources. Harmful bacteria multiply rapidly so perishable food transported without an ice source won't stay safe long.
  • Frozen juice boxes or water can also be used as freezer packs. Freeze these items overnight and use with at least one other freezer pack. By lunchtime, the liquids should be thawed and ready to drink.
  • Pack lunches containing perishable food in an insulated lunchbox or soft-sided lunch bag. Perishable food can be unsafe to eat by lunchtime if packed in a paper or plastic bag.
  • If packing a hot lunch like soup, chili or stew, use an insulated container to keep it hot. Fill the container with boiling water, let stand for a few minutes, empty, and then put in the piping hot food. Tell children to keep the insulated container closed until lunchtime to keep the food hot - 140 F or above.
  • If packing a lunch the night before, leave it in the refrigerator overnight. The meal will stay cold longer because everything will be refrigerator temperature when it is placed in the lunchbox.
  • If packing snacks for the team, troop or group, keep perishable foods in a cooler with ice or cold packs until snack time. Pack snacks in individual bags or containers, rather than having children share food from one serving dish.

Food Storage

  • Store food in the refrigerator (40 F or below) or freezer (zero degrees Fahrenheit or below).
  • Leave the lid of the lunchbox or bag open so cold air can better circulate and keep the food cold.

Eating and Disposal

  • Pack disposable wipes for washing hands before and after eating.
  • After lunch, discard all leftover food, used food packaging and paper/plastic bags. Do not reuse packaging because it could contaminate other food and cause foodborne illness.

More food safety tips and resources

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