K-State food safety expert shares tips for packing school lunches

With the beginning of a new school year, parents and caregivers may be concerned about whether children are eating the food in their lunch boxes. The more important concern, though, is whether the food is safe to eat. (Photo courtesy of FAPC.)

As school resumes, so does packing kids’ lunches. Following food safety procedures is essential for parents in helping to prevent foodborne illness, said Kansas State University food scientist Karen Blakeslee.

K-State food scientist Karen Blakeslee encourages parents to follow food safety concepts when sending school lunch with their children. (K-State Research and Extension)

“Start by washing your hands,” Blakeslee said. “This can prevent many food safety issues. If taking lunch to school, keep cold food cold, and hot food hot.”

Blakeslee said parents should remind their kids to not share their lunches with other kids because of the risk of food allergens. She also suggests packing foods that don’t require temperature control to keep them safe.

“Many whole fresh fruits, single serve fruit cups, whole grain crackers, peanut butter or other nut butters, and dried meat sticks are safe to pack,” Blakeslee said. “If packing cold or hot food, use ice packs and insulated lunch containers to keep them cold. If taking hot food, use a separate insulated container or bottle to keep that food hot.”

Additionally, Blakeslee encourages parents to ask kids to help plan school lunches, and take them grocery shopping.

“If they help choose and prepare the lunch, they will be excited to eat it,” she said.

Blakeslee, who also is coordinator of K-State’s Rapid Response Center for Food Safety, publishes a monthly newsletter called You Asked It! that provides numerous tips on food safety. More information is also available from local extension offices in Kansas.