What’s Growing in Your Lunch Box?

lunch bag with cold packMany of us pack a lunch for work every day and soon we will start packing lunches for children going back to school. One of the fun things I remember about back-to-school shopping was picking out a lunch box for that year. Believe it or not, my husband still enjoys carrying his lunch in a metal Star Trek lunch box from when he was a kid. Using the same container everyday is an environmentally smart choice, but is it a smart food safety move?

Let’s start by looking at what goes in those lunch boxes and bags . . . and where those boxes and bags go. We put food of all kinds into the bags. Sticky food, greasy food, crumbly food, gooey food, hot food, cold food and the list goes on. Sometimes little bits of that food seem to stay behind in our lunch boxes. From the time we leave the house in the morning until we return home at night, our lunch boxes and bags can touch many things – car or bus seats, floors, desktops, cafeteria tables, lockers, and more.

So what can you do to keep your lunch bags and boxes clean? The first thing is to use hot soapy water or disinfecting wipes to clean both the inside and outside after each use. If you have a hard plastic or metal lunch box, you can probably run it through a dishwasher. Some (but not all) soft sided lunch bags and boxes can be put in the washing machine with hot water.

Packing the food for your lunch also requires some planning ahead:

  • Be sure to wash your hands and work surfaces before starting any food preparation.
  • Wash all fruits and vegetables before packing. Use clean food storage containers.
  • Use separate cutting boards for different types of food to prevent cross contamination.
  • If you are planning to pack foods that need to be kept hot or cold, be sure you have a way to maintain their temperature. Insulated containers work well to keep foods hot or cold. Frozen beverages or ice/gel packs can also be used to keep foods cold.

Lunch can be a pick-me-up in the middle of the day. Make sure your lunch fills you with good nutrition and energy to finish the day . . . not unsafe food and bacteria to that can make you sick.

Written by: Kate Shumaker, Extension Educator, Family and Consumer Sciences, Ohio State University Extension Holmes County

Reviewed by: Christine Kendle, Extension Educator, Family and Consumer Sciences, Ohio State University Extension Tuscarawas County

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