A packed lunchbox can be a healthier alternative to whatever is available for purchase at your work or your child’s school. However, food safety can often be compromised in the morning rush. Here are a few rules to go by to protect yourself and your little ones from the danger of food-borne diseases and choking hazards.

Safety tips:

  • Keep it cold. You will need an insulated lunchbox with ice packs if you plan to pack perishable foods like eggs, deli meats, fish, sliced fruit and vegetables. These foods can be left at room temperature for only 2 hours and need to be discarded after that to prevent foodborne illness.
  • Thermos helps. To keep hot foods like soups and stews hot, use an insulated bottle like a thermos. Make sure to fill it with very hot water and leave it there for a few minutes before placing the hot food inside.  This will help keep the temperature within safe limits and slow down the growth of pathogens.
  • Wash your hands. I know, I sound like your grandmother right now, but washing your hands before touching food that goes into the lunchbox really helps keep it safe for longer. According to USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service website, cleanliness is a major factor in preventing foodborne illness.
  • Play it safe. Cut grapes, baby carrots and tomatoes in half lengthwise to prevent choking. Nuts, popcorn and hard candy are also a choking hazards for children under 4.
  • Keep in mind the expiration date. Use sliced deli meats within 3-4 days from the date of purchasing.
  •  Good to go. Whole unpeeled fruits and vegetables, processed cheese like string cheese or cheddar cheese, crackers and PB&J sandwiches do not require refrigeration.

Learn here about basic principles of a healthy lunchbox and sample lunchbox menus.