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Safe Brown Bag Lunches*


2806-7003 (FST-203NP)

Authors as Published

Authored by Mena Forrester, Extension Agent, former Family and Consumer Sciences, Fauquier County, and reviewed by Renee Boyer, Food Safety Extension Specialist and Professor, Virginia Tech

Foods That ...

Must Be Kept Cold

Are Safe At Room Temperature

Meat, Poultry, Fish, Dry Beans, Eggs & Nut Group
  • Meat, fish, poultry, eggs, cooked beans or sandwiches; salads or other dishes made with these foods

  • Processed meats (bologna, hot dogs, etc.)

  • Tofu, other soy products or other meat substitutes

  • Nuts and nut butters

  • Dry soup mixes

Milk, Yogurt and Cheese Group
  • Milk and milk drinks

  • Custards and pudding

  • All foods containing cheese (pizza and casseroles)

  • Yogurt

  • Unopened shelf-stable milk and unopened shelf-stable pudding

Vegetable Group

  • All cooked vegetables

  • Sprouts

  • Foods containing cut vegetables (ie. leafy greens, tomatoes, cucumbers)
  • Raw vegetables

  • Unopened vegetable juices

Fruit Group
  • Food containing fresh cut fruits

  • Whole Fruits

  • Canned fruits

  • Unopened fruit juices

Bread, Cereal, Rice and Pasta Group

  • Cooked pasta, rice and other cooked grains or cereals

  • Any salads, soups or dishes made with cooked grains

  • Bread and crackers


  • Dry cereals

Fats, Oils and Sweets
  • Gravy and sauces

  • Mayonnaise

  • Butter

  • Candy

  • Ketchup and mustard

  • Margarine, oil

  • Fruit pies

Keep your brown bag lunch safe by using this information to see which foods in your lunch should be kept cold.

Keep foods cold so germs won’t grow. Refrigerate foods as soon as you get to school or work. 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.

For more information contact: Renee Boyer, PhD, Extension Specialist, Virginia Tech

*Adapted from the Univeristy of Massachusetts Extension publication “Safe Bag Lunches”.

Virginia Cooperative Extension materials are available for public use, reprint, or citation without further permission, provided the use includes credit to the author and to Virginia Cooperative Extension, Virginia Tech, and Virginia State University.

Virginia Cooperative Extension is a partnership of Virginia Tech, Virginia State University, the U.S. Department of Agriculture, and local governments. Its programs and employment are open to all, regardless of age, color, disability, sex (including pregnancy), gender, gender identity, gender expression, national origin, political affiliation, race, religion, sexual orientation, genetic information, military status, or any other basis protected by law

Publication Date

June 17, 2020

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