Back to School Food Safety Tips

Sara Dow is a ACE Certified Weight Management and Fitness Nutrition Specialist. She is also a ACE Certified Personal Trainer and Small Group Trainer at the Y. Twice a month, her blog posts will feature nutrition education, a healthy recipe she has tried and loves, and tips to help you achieve your health goals, as well as answers centered around a nutrition question from a Y member.

September is national food safety education month! Of the estimated 42,000 annual cases of salmonella food poisoning, almost 50% occur in infants and school-aged children. Check out these back-to-school food safety tips to help prevent foodborne illness in the lunchroom.

Handwashing: This is the first and easiest step for avoiding foodborne illness.  Before eating, children should wash their hands for 20 seconds with warm soapy water. Have them sing the ABCs twice while washing if they sometimes finish early. Pack hand wipes or 60 percent alcohol-based hand sanitizer if water and soap are unavailable.

Insulated container: Perishable food can be unsafe to eat by lunchtime if packed in a paper bag. Use an insulated lunch bag or box instead. 

Keep cold lunch cold: Pack a cold lunch with two freezer packs to keep it at a safe temperature of 40°F or below. Frozen juice boxes (or water bottles) can be used as freezer packs. By lunchtime, the juice should be thawed and ready to drink! If the classroom has a refrigerator, store the lunchbox with the lid open so that the cold air can circulate.

Keep hot lunch hot: If packing a hot lunch, such as soup, chili, or stew, use an insulated container to keep it hot.  Fill the container with boiling water, let it stand for a few minutes, empty it, then fill it with piping hot food. Tell your child to keep the insulated container closed until lunchtime to keep the food at a safe temp of 140°F or above.   

Children are the most vulnerable to food poisoning, so it’s essential to take extra precautions to keep them safe.  Check out this infographic with back-to-school safety tips from  I found it so helpful that I printed it and posted it on my refrigerator!

For healthy back-to-school meal and snack ideas, check out my previous post, Smart Nutrition for Academic Success.

I hope your little ones enjoy a safe and healthy school year!

About Sara Dow

Hi, I’m Sara and I am passionate about helping people improve their quality of life through the knowledge and practice of good nutrition.  

In 2018, I was inspired by the YMCA community to go back to school and pursue my dream of becoming a registered dietitian. I am now in my senior year, double majoring in Nutrition and Dietetics at Kansas State University.  I am excited to share with you what I am learning. 



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