More than 15 million school-aged children are home alone after school. That means they’ll be making their own afterschool snacks, without anyone supervising their creative concoctions. 


Will your kids be eating on their own during the week? If so, you might want to go over these guidelines with them–before they run straight to the refrigerator and snack mindlessly in front of the TV, with their feet on the table and the family dog in their lap.

Clean up first:

— Put your books, book bags, and sports equipment on the floor, not on kitchen counters or the table. Germs from your stuff could wind up on the eating surfaces.


— Wash your hands! Hands carry lots of germs, and not washing is a top cause of food poisoning.  This is especially important after greeting our pet, giving it a treat, or even touching its toys or housing.


— Always use clean spoons, forks and plates.

— Wash fruits and veggies with running water before you eat them, even if you plan to peel them.

— Do not leave cold items–like milk, lunchmeat, hard cooked eggs, or yogurt–out on the counter at room temperature. Put these foods back in the fridge as soon as you’ve fixed your snack.

Foods to avoid:

Any perishable food left out overnight, such as pizza, even if it isn’t topped with meat. Perishable food should never be left in the temperature “Danger Zone” of 40 to 140°F for more than two hours.

Lunchbox leftovers, like sandwiches or other “refrigerator type” foods you didn’t eat at school. Throw out these leftovers and their plastic or foil wrapping instead of saving them for later.

Unbaked cookie dough, because it may contain raw eggs that can have Salmonella bacteria.

Bread, cheese, or soft fruits or vegetables that look bad or have even small spots of mold.

When using the microwave:

Don’t use the microwave if you have to reach over your head to open it. It’s easy to spill hot food or liquid as you take it out, which can burn your skin.

Use only microwave-safe plates, bowls, and utensils. Some containers can melt or warp, causing spills and also leaking harmful chemicals into your food. Ask your parents to keep microwave-safe dishes in a certain cabinet.

Cover food with a lid, plastic wrap, or wax paper, turning up one corner to let steam escape while the food microwaves. Also, rotate or stir food halfway through cooking. This helps avoid cold spots and better destroys bacteria.

Read package instructions carefully, or ask your parents what settings to use for your favorite snacks. If a microwaveable meal says to let the food “stand” after the timer goes off, don’t skip this step. The food is still cooking even though the microwave has stopped.

Use pot holders to remove items from the microwave, and hold the food away from your face as you remove the lid to avoid burns from the hot container and steam.

Never pop any food right from the microwave into your mouth. Allow the food to cool for several minutes before eating.

Here are some tips for specific microwaveable snacks:

Jelly doughnuts, fruit pastries, and pocket-type sandwiches. Break these open before eating. The filling can get very hot and burn your mouth, so open them to let them cool.

Popcorn. Let the bag sit for several minutes before opening. Steam from the bag can burn your face, eyes, arms, and hands.

For more information on food safety for back to school, visit these links:


Back to School Food Safety Update:

Bag Lunch Preparation for Warm Weather:

Lunchmeat Safety:

Safe After School Snacks: <a href="http://



Lunchmeat Safety:

Back to School Food Safety:

Fact Sheet:

Food Safety Tips for College Students:

By Diane Van, Food Safety Education Staff Deputy Director, USDA Food Safety and Inspection Service. Originally published Aug. 17, 2011 at