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Foodborne Illness and Safe Food Handling

Keeping School Lunches Safe

​​​​​​​​Below are some ways to reduce the risk of becoming sick by eating contaminated food (food-borne illness) and keeping school lunches safe to eat.

Keep it Clean

  • Wash your hands before making lunches. Teach children to wash their hands before helping in the kitchen and before eating.
  • Wash fruits and vegetables well, rubbing or rinsing them in clean running water. Scrub produce that are hard (like carrots, oranges, avocadoes, and melons) with a clean vegetable brush. Wash fruits and vegetables even if the rind or skin isn’t going to be eaten.
  • Wash or wipe reusable lunch bags and containers after using with warm soapy water, and dry.
  • Wash kitchen utensils with warm soapy water or put them in the dishwasher.
  • Wash sinks, countertops, and kitchen utensils that can’t go in the dishwasher (like wooden cutting boards), and sanitize them​ with a mild bleach solution.

    Mild bleach solution: Mix ¼ tsp. bleach in 2 cups water
    or ½ tsp. bleach in 1 litre water
  • Change dishcloths, tea towels, and hand towels when dirty. Always change them after preparing raw meat, poultry, and fish.

Keep it Hot

  • Put hot food such as chili, soup, stew, and pasta in an insulated bottle. Pre-heat the bottle with boiling water for a few minutes, drain the water, and add the hot food.
  • If you are using leftovers for school lunches, refrigerate them right after the meal. Use leftovers in a day or two. If served hot, re-heat food to at least 74 °C (165 °F).

Keep it Cold

  • Pack lunches in insulated lunch containers and add frozen freezer packs. Frozen single-sized juice boxes can also be placed in lunch bags to help keep food cold.
  • Pack a chilled sandwich. Make the sandwich the night before and refrigerate. Freeze simple sandwiches, like cheese or sliced meat, to keep lunches cold.
  • Put lunch items in an insulated lunch bag and chill overnight in the refrigerator. In the morning, add any frozen items so your child’s lunch will stay cold longer.
  • Chill food such as whole fruits and vegetables, crackers, nuts, packaged puddings, and unopened canned food. This helps keep the lunch cold.
  • Remind your child to keep their cold lunch in a cool spot (not in the sun or near a heater).

Other Tips

  • Buy small amounts of cold cuts/deli foods to make sandwiches. Make sure they are used up by their “best before” date.
  • Throw away any perishable food items that are not eaten at lunch time.

Current as of: February 3, 2017

Author: Environmental Public Health, Alberta Health Services