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Safe Food Preparation


Food Safety Specialist 


Simple Ideas to Keep Bag Lunches Safe

Do you pack bag lunches for yourself, your spouse or the kids? Bag lunches are a great way to save money in your household budget. They also allow you to influence family members’ diets away from home by providing healthful food choices. (That is, as long as your kids aren’t swapping their fresh fruit with other kids for who-knows-what!)

The USDA has issued some timely food safety reminders for anyone packing bag lunches. Of course, you want to include nutritious food in the bag. Often, though, healthful foods are perishable. The key is to ensure that the fresh food is still safe by the time it is consumed.

First, prepare bag lunches with clean food, hands and utensils. In our time-stressed lives, it can be tempting to take shortcuts when preparing lunches the night before. However, you must consider cross-contamination in the food preparation area. Everything that comes in contact with the food or the preparation surface (including pets!) can contaminate.

Next, “think cold” if you are including perishable food. If you do include perishables, consider what may happen between the time you pack the food and the time it is consumed. Perishable food must be kept cold. Harmful bacteria multiply rapidly in temperatures above 40 degrees.

Perishable foods – such as lunchmeat and eggs – should be kept cold in the refrigerator overnight. Then, perishables should remain refrigerated after packing until lunchtime.

Finally, pack smart by insulating. You may or may not be able to refrigerate the bag lunch after it leaves your house. If the food will not be refrigerated, consider bag-packing strategies that will preserve the cold.

Insulated, soft-sided lunch boxes or bags are the best option. However, if the lunch will be carried in an old-fashioned paper bag, consider wrapping perishables in extra paper to preserve the cold. And, if possible, add some ice (in a sealed plastic zip-top bag) to keep the cold.

These simple precautions can make a big difference. We can’t guarantee that your family members won’t trade their egg salad sandwiches for candy bars. However, you can help ensure that the sandwich will be safely enjoyed.  

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