Family and Consumer Science Agent, Salem/Roanoke
Packing your own lunch to take to work or on the go is a great way to save money and ensure you always have healthy food on hand. Food safety should be a concern year round, however, and particular attention should be paid to keeping your food safe in the warmer months when bacteria can grow even more quickly as temperatures continue to rise.
Virginia Cooperative Extension recommends refrigerating your food as soon as you get to work or school. If there is no refrigerator, use an insulated lunch bag with an ice pack or frozen juice box. Place foods that must be kept cold next to the cold pack. Keep foods in the coolest place possible.
Keep everything clean when you make your lunch. Wash your hands before handling food. Wash your fruits and vegetables. Wash utensils and containers with soap and warm water, and rinse after each use. Reheat food thoroughly if you use leftovers, make sure that you pack and keep them cold. Cook foods leftovers to an internal temperature of 165°F. If you pack frozen meals, be sure to follow the directions on the package when heating. If you use a microwave, use microwave-safe containers.
Some great snacks that are safe at room temperature include nuts and nut butters, unopened shelf stable pudding, raw vegetables and unopened fruit juices, whole fruits, breads, and crackers.
Whatever you pack, be sure to consider lunch as an opportune time to get servings of whole grains and fruits and vegetables (especially those grown locally and in season.) Ditch sugar sweetened vegetables for simple, refreshing water – the perfect complement to any meal!