Chances are, you’re packing your lunch in part because a packed lunch can be so much healthier than restaurant food. But there’s more to a healthy lunch than the food itself. Let’s talk packed lunch safety!
HIGHWAY TO THE DANGER ZONE
Just like a meal at home, you want to keep your packed lunch out of “the danger zone.” The danger zone is a temperature range at which bacteria thrive: between 40F and 140F. The key to a safe packed lunch is keeping hot foods at a temperature of over 140F and cold foods below that 40F threshold.
That doesn’t mean your food is immediately unsafe if it hits those temperatures. You just want to make sure that it’s not between 40F and 140F for more than two hours.
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How much time passes between when you take your lunch out of the fridge in the morning and when you eat it? If it’s more than two hours, you should definitely read on for the safest ways to pack and store your lunch bag.
TIPS FOR A SAFE PACKED LUNCH
USDA shared some helpful tips for how to keep your packed lunch at a safe temperature. Some of these are no-brainers, but there were a few surprising tips, as well.
- Prepare Food Safely– Food safety begins at home, so make sure you’re using safe handling practices in your kitchen and avoid these common food safety mistakes.
- Use an Insulated Bag– And stick a couple of freezer packs in there, for good measure. USDA recommends using at least two “cold sources” to keep cold food cold.
- Don’t Refrigerate in the Bag– If you pack your lunch the night before or stick it in your office fridge, take it out of the insulated bag first.
- Use a Thermos– For hot food, use an insulated container with a lid that seals to keep it hot, and do not open until lunchtime.
- Reheat Safely– If you have access to a microwave to reheat, use a loose-fitting lid when you heat your lunch. This helps your food heat evenly, which is safer. USDA recommends a food thermometer to make sure it reaches at least 165F.
WHEN THE DANGER ZONE DOESN’T APPLY
The tips from USDA also include some foods that you don’t have to worry about keeping hot or cold in your lunchbox:
- whole fruits and vegetables
- hard cheese
- canned meat and fish
- peanut butter
So, if you’re packing a PB&J with a whole apple and pretzels, you don’t have to worry about the danger zone.
USDA also shared a handy little graphic about food safety. If you’d like to view it larger, just click on the image below:
Source: Becky Striepe/Care2.com