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Back-to-School Food Safety Lesson: Packing Lunches

It’s a familiar time of year for many military families… school’s starting again, if it hasn’t already! Your Commissary wants to help you start your school year right with a couple of lessons on food safety for the back-to-school season.

Your first lesson is all about how to pack lunches safely. You’ll pass with flying colors if you remember these tips…

Clean. Separate. Cook. Chill.

Today’s lesson will help you follow four simple steps that the USDA recommends taking to “Be Food Safe“:

  • Clean
  • Separate
  • Cook
  • Chill

Always keep these principles in mind when you’re preparing food.

Clean. Separate. Cook. Chill.

Safety first: start with safe ingredients.


  • Always keep perishable food, such as meat, poultry and eggs, cold to prevent foodborne illness.

Keep your hands & kitchen clean.


  • Before you begin packing lunch, wash your hands with soap and warm water for 20 seconds.
  • Harmful bacteria can spread throughout the kitchen, so wash all surfaces and utensils before each use and keep your family pets away from your kitchen counters! (We know you love Fido and Whiskers, but it’s important that these surfaces stay as clean as possible!)

Make sure cold foods stay that way.


  • Prepare cooked foods ahead of time and refrigerate them for as long as you can before your child leaves for school!
  • Freezing sandwiches helps them stay cold, but it can affect the quality if they are frozen with mayo, lettuce or tomato on them, so add these ingredients later.
  • Insulated, soft-sided lunch boxes or bags are the best containers for keeping food cold, but remember to open them if you put them in the fridge so the food can get cold!
  • Regardless of what container you choose, you still need to pack at least two cold sources (such as a gel or ice pack) with perishable food.

Leave leftovers behind.


  • Don’t pack more food than your child will eat. Minimizing leftovers means you won’t have to worry about storing them safely and you’ll save money by preventing waste!
  • Encourage your child to discard all leftover food and disposable food packaging (such as paper and plastic bags) after lunch or immediately after school. This is important because reusing packaging can contaminate other food and cause foodborne illnesses.

So, who’s ready to put this lesson to use?

kids raising hands in a classroom

Great! We hope these tips will help you develop a safe, smart routine for packing lunches!

Now that we’ve finished our first back-to-school food safety lesson, what other tips do you have for packing lunches that you can share with the rest of the class? No need to raise your hand… sound off in the comments below!

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