Packing a Safe School Lunch

Ohio students are back in school. While focusing on preparing a healthy and nutritious lunch for your child, don’t forget that proper food preparation and storage is just as important for your child’s health.


To prevent stomach aches this school year, here are some reminders on how to safely pack a school lunch:

  • Wash hands with warm water and soap before handling food. Remind children to wash their own hands before eating. Unwashed hands are a prime cause of foodborne illness.
  • Make sure to wash all kitchen surfaces and utensils before food preparation.
  • Be aware of what lunch items require refrigeration. Foods like leftovers, meats and poultry, deli meats cheese, sandwiches, soups, sliced fruits and veggies, dairy products, eggs, and similar are perishable and have to be refrigerated.
  • Perishable items must be kept chilled (40 ° F or below) or hot (110 ° F or warmer) to reduce risk of foodborne illness. If left unrefrigerated, these items will go bad in less than two hours.
  • To keep foods hot away from home, use an insulated bottle for hot foods like soups, stews or spaghetti.
  • To keep food cold away from home, use an insulated lunch box or bag. Include ice packs or frozen lunch items, such as a juice box or bottle of water. Place the ice packs next to the perishables.
  • Wash fresh fruits and vegetables and dry them well before packing lunch. It is best to cut fresh produce in the morning immediately before packing.
  • To make things easier during the morning rush, prepare the lunch items the night before and store them in the refrigerator.
  • Always wash lunch boxes and bottles after each use. It is best to pack lunch in reusable containers that can be properly cleaned. Do not reuse disposable, plastic bags as they could contain other foods, leading to foodborne illness.
  • Teach your child never to eat lunch leftovers afterschool or on the bus. Pack a healthy, wrapped, non-perishable snack instead.

Following these food safety tips, you will reduce your family’s risk of foodborne illness and enjoy a safe and successful school year!

Written by:

Bridgette Kidd, MPH, RD
Healthy People Program Specialist, Family and Consumer Sciences
Ohio State University Extension

Reviewed by:

Sanja Ilic, PhD
Assistant Professor and Extension State Specialist, Food Safety
Ohio State University


U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Back to school. Available at:

United States Department of Agriculture, Food Safety and Inspection Service. Keeping “bag” lunches safe. Available at:

Michigan State University Extension. (2012) Food safety tips for back-to-school lunches. Available at:



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