Pack safe lunches this school year

LANSING – All across Michigan, students are heading back to school, and many families will choose to pack lunches for their kids to make sure they are making healthy food choices. The Michigan Department of Agriculture & Rural Development (MDARD) reminds parents to follow some basic food safety guidelines when packing lunches for their children, to reduce the risk of foodborne illness and to make sure those healthy choices stay healthy.

“Preparing lunches for your children to take to school means food can go unrefrigerated for extended periods of time,” said MDARD Director Keith Creagh. “By taking a few food safety precautions, you can help reduce the risk of your child’s lunch becoming a breeding ground for food-borne illness.”

Tips for assuring your child’s lunch is safe:

• Put something cold in the lunch box. A fun trick is to freeze a juice box overnight and put it right next to a sandwich. This ensures the sandwich won’t get too warm and your child still has a cold drink at lunchtime! If you don’t want to take a juice box, a small, plastic refrigerator container filled with water and put into the freezer the night before will work too. You can also place icepacks between food items to keep them colder longer.

• Freeze your sandwiches. This works better with coarse-textured breads that won’t get soggy when they thaw. The sandwich will be thawed by the time your child eats lunch, and it keeps everything else in the lunch box cold. (If your child likes lettuce, tomato and mayonnaise, pack those separately. They don’t freeze well, and your child may not like the taste when they thaw.)

• Rinse fruits and vegetables under running tap water, including those with skins and rinds that are not eaten. Dry with a paper towel.

• Use a thermos to keep milk or juice cold until lunchtime. Some juices don’t even need to be refrigerated.

• Remind your child to keep his/her lunch in the coolest place possible. If the school has a refrigerator available for students to use, have your child store the lunch there.

• Keep it clean! Make sure the counter tops are clean when preparing the lunch and regularly wash and sanitize your child’s lunch box. Show your child proper hand washing, using warm, soapy water, before they eat. Hand washing is even more critical to help stop the transmission of diseases like influenza.

For more information, visit or; call the U.S. Food and Drug Administration Food Information Line at 888-SAFE-FOOD; or contact your local Michigan State University Extension office.