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Indiana State Department of Health

Food Protection Home > Kid's Corner > Packing Your Lunch Safely Packing Your Lunch Safely

If you take your lunch to school, there are some things you need to know to keep yourself from getting sick. Follow these rules, and you will stay safe and healthy!

Some foods will grow bacteria more easily than others. To prevent the bacteria from growing, we need to keep these foods cold. The temperature of your refrigerator should be about 40 degrees Fahrenheit. This is how cold your food should be kept.

Listed below are foods that need to be refrigerated at all times:

  • Sandwiches made with any kind of meat, such as turkey, roast beef, chicken, bologna, or ham, egg salad, tuna salad, or cheeses;
  • Salad made with meat, tuna, cheese, eggs, potatoes, pasta or beans;
  • Anything containing cheese;
  • Baked beans or any other cooked beans;
  • Cooked pasta such as macaroni and cheese, spaghetti or lasagna;
  • Any food that has meat or poultry in it;
  • Cut melons, especially cantaloupe;
  • Dairy foods such as yogurt, cottage cheese, milk, or sour cream

Some food is safe without needing to be cold. Items that don’t have to be refrigerated include whole fruits and vegetables, canned food (not opened), breads, crackers or cookies, peanut butter, jelly, mustard or ketchup, jello or chips.

Remember to keep cold foods cold!

Wash your hands before making lunch or a snack. Always pack your lunch in a cooler or insulated container, if possible. Keep food cold by including freezer packs, a sealed bag with ice, or freeze a sandwich or your drink the night before you pack your lunch. Once you get to school or wherever you’re going, store your food in a cool place. If possible, keep it in a refrigerator. If there is no refrigerator available, store the lunch out of the sun and away from heat like a heating vent or in a hot car.

Remember that food should not be left at room temperature for more than four hours. If you can’t keep your lunch in a refrigerator, and you didn’t pack it with ice or ice packs, eat the food as soon as possible. Be sure to wash your hands before eating. Don’t keep leftover food from your lunch for a snack after school. If you’re not sure how long the food has been out of the refrigerator, it’s best to throw it away.

And keep hot foods hot!

Use an insulated container to keep hot food hot – 140 degrees Fahrenheit or above. Foods like chili, soup or stew can be stored hot by filling an insulated container (like a thermos) with boiling water first. Let the thermos stand for a few minutes, then empty it. Fill it with the hot food, and cover it tightly until it’s time to eat.

When In Doubt, Throw It Out!