It’s that time of year again, back to school, back to books and back to the busy extracurricular schedules today’s children stuff their week with. With all these things to worry about, USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service is offering a small way to relieve a little stress when it comes to packing lunches and afterschool snacks by publishing a set of back to school food safety tips.

According to FSIS, bacteria that cause foodborne illness grow rapidly at temperatures between 40 and 140 degrees Fahrenheit. In this temperature range, these microorganisms can multiply to dangerous levels in just two hours. To ensure the safety of the food packed for students, FSIS advises following USDA’s four steps to food safety: Clean, Separate, Cook, and Chill.

Packing Tips:

-If the lunch/snack contains perishable food items like luncheon meats, eggs, cheese, or yogurt, make sure to pack it with at least two cold sources.

-Frozen juice boxes or water can also be used as freezer packs. By lunchtime, the liquid should be thawed and ready to drink.

-Pack lunches containing perishable food in an insulated lunchbox or soft-sided lunch bag. Perishable food can be unsafe to eat by lunchtime if packed in a paper bag.

-If packing a hot lunch use an insulated container to keep it hot. Fill the container with boiling water, let stand for a few minutes, empty, and then put in the piping hot food. Tell children to keep the insulated container closed until lunchtime to keep the food hot at 140 °F or above.

-If packing a child’s lunch the night before, parents should leave it in the refrigerator overnight. The meal will stay cold longer because everything will be refrigerator temperature when it is placed in the lunchbox.

-If you’re responsible for packing snacks for the team, troop, or group, keep perishable foods in a cooler with ice or cold packs until snack time. Pack snacks in individual bags or containers, rather than having children share food.

Storage Tips:

-If possible, a child's lunch should be stored in a refrigerator or cooler with ice upon arrival. Leave the lid of the lunchbox or bag open in the fridge so that cold air can better circulate and keep the food cold.

Eating and Disposal Tips:

-Pack disposable wipes for washing hands before and after eating.

 -After lunch, discard all leftover food, used food packaging, and paper bags. Do not reuse packaging because it could contaminate other food and cause foodborne illness.