Packing a Safe Lunch

Hygiene and Food Safety 5 min

Learn how to keep your packed lunch safe and prevent foodborne illness.

By DFC - PLC, Nutrition Team
Lunch box with a sandwich, apple, milk, veggies and cheese in individual containers
Packing a healthy lunch for children


  • Tips to help prevent foodborne-illness when packing a lunch
  • Which foods should be kept cold?
  • Which foods can you safely keep at room temperature?

Packing a Safe Lunch

Packing a healthy school lunch is important, and that includes keeping food safety in mind. Whether you pack your own lunch or your child’s, follow these tips to help prevent food-borne illness.

·         Wash your hands with warm soapy water before you start.

·         Make sure your countertop, lunchbox, containers, cutlery and ice packs are clean.

·         Choose an insulated, re-usable lunchbox- they’re designed to keep food safe and at a suitable  temperature.

·        To keep foods cold, use an icepack.

·         If you pack your lunch the night before, store perishable foods in the refrigerator until morning.

·         To keep hot foods hot, use an insulated container (such as Thermos).  Before filling the container   with food, pour boiling water into it and let it sit for 10 minutes.  Pour the water out and then fill the container with hot food. This process better conserves heat.

·         Throw out perishable foods (such as meat sandwiches, casseroles and milk) that are not eaten at lunch.

Bacteria that cause food-borne illness and food spoilage grow more rapidly in certain types of food and at certain temperatures.  Perishable foods such as those listed on the left-hand side of the table below should be kept out of the “danger zone” of 4-60°C until they are ready to be eaten.


Foods that must be kept cold*

Foods you can keep at room temperature


Uncut or whole fruits and vegetables

Meat, poultry, fish and seafood


Yogurt, cheese and milk

Dry cereal

Peeled, cut or leafy fruits and vegetables

Bread, pitas and wraps (unfilled)

Salads (vegetable, fruit, rice, bean or pasta)

Trail mix with seeds and dried fruit

Hummus or tofu spread

Granola bars or muffins

Foods with mayonnaise or other dressings

Unopened canned tuna or salmon

*If warmed at home these foods should be placed in an insulated container to keep them at a safe temperature above 60°C.

For more information on safe lunches, obtain your free copy of the resource Breakfast + Snacks + Lunches: A Practical and User-friendly Guide.


Multi level
Hygiene and food safety

Topics to explore