It’s back-to-school time, and, for many students, that means that many parents will be packing lunches for their kids again. Leaving food at room temperature can cause bacteria to grow to dangerous levels that can cause illness. Bacteria grow most rapidly in the range of temperatures between 40 degrees F and 140 degrees F, doubling in number in as little as 20 minutes. This range of temperatures is often called the “Danger Zone.” Here are some tips from USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service for keeping lunches out of the Danger Zone:

  • If the lunch/snack contains perishable food items, such as luncheon meats, eggs, cheese, or yogurt, make sure to pack it with at least two cold sources.
  • Frozen juice boxes or water can also be used as freezer packs. 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.
  • If packing a hot lunch, including such things as 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.
  • If packing a child’s lunch the night before, parents should leave it in the refrigerator overnight.
  • If possible, a child’s lunch should be stored in a refrigerator or cooler and the lid of the lunchbox or bag left open so that cold air can better circulate and keep the food cold.
  • After lunch, discard all leftover food, used food packaging, and paper bags. Do not reuse packaging because it could contaminate other food and cause foodborne illness.

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