Ice packs are not toxic, so you don’t have to worry about using them to cool your food. You can just put them into the freezer and then place them in the lunchbox when necessary. Ice packs are reusable, which makes them very efficient for a wide range of situations, and they can be stored in your freezer for quite some time.
In this article, we will talk about the contents of ice packs and some safety tips to remember whenever packing food for your child’s lunch.
Are the contents of an ice pack safe?
Even if ice packs are generally safe to use, you still need to know what happens in case you accidentally ingest the contents of ice packs. Some reusable ice packs typically contain water, propylene glycol (an ingredient that lowers the freezing temperature), a thickening agent, silica gel and non-toxic blue coloring. Ingesting the liquid contents of the reusable ice pack typically only causes mild irritation, while large amounts could possibly lead to symptoms similar to alcohol intoxication such as severe drowsiness, unresponsiveness and slowed breathing.
Some reusable ice packs are filled with small gel beads that are made of sodium polyacrylate. Sodium polyacrylate, when inhaled or ingested, can cause damage to your eyes, skin and lungs.
Some ice packs are typically filled with a gel or liquid that remains cool for hours after it is taken out of the freezer. Because the gel has a lower freezing point than water, it freezes slowly and remains a semi-solid when in use. The contents of most gel packs are made with hydroxyethyl cellulose, which is non-toxic and biodegradable.
Tips to keep packed lunches safe to eat
Now that we learned the contents of ice packs, let’s learn about some safety tips when preparing packed lunches. To make sure your packed lunch is kept safe, be sure to take the following precautions:
- Get an insulated lunch box or bag. Using an insulated lunch box or bag and frozen gel packs can be one of the most effective ways to keep food cold — and safe — till mealtime. According to FoodSafety.gov, perishable foods, such as deli sandwiches, yogurt and milk, should be kept cold in your child’s lunch box or bag. Consider storing the insulated bag in the freezer overnight to make sure it’s as cold as possible when you pack it in the morning.
- Pre-chill your child’s lunch. If you’re making a sandwich with lunch meats or giving your child cooked chicken, pasta salads or other pre-made food, try to make them the night before. This way, the food will chill adequately before you put it into a lunch box. An extra benefit to making lunch the night before is that it is a terrific time-saver for those busy mornings.
- Keep warm food warm. It’s just as important to keep hot food at a safe temperature as it is to keep cold food at lower temperatures. To keep food like soups and chilis hot, you can use a Thermos or a similarly insulated food container. Before placing food in an insulated container, fill it first with boiling water and let it stand for a few minutes. When the container is thoroughly pre-warmed, empty the container and place the hot food inside. Close the top immediately. Also, tell your child to keep the insulated container closed until lunchtime to keep the food nice and hot.
- Use at least two frozen cold packs. The US Department of Agriculture (USDA) recommends using at least two cold packs to make sure that food stays at an adequately safe level of coldness in the lunch box. With two cold sources, your perishables should be kept safely cold (at 40 degrees Fahrenheit, or 4 degrees Celsius, or below) until lunch time.
- Put the most perishable foods right next to the ice pack. While foods such as crackers, bread and whole vegetables and unpeeled fruits do not need to be kept cold, perishable foods need constant cold while in storage. Heat affects the quality of food and may cause your lunch to go bad within just a few hours. Put the foods that need to be kept cold right next to the ice packs so that they stay coldest.
- Use a frozen juice box or ice packs. Another way you can keep your child’s lunch cold in their insulated lunch box is to freeze juice boxes or other beverages. Pop them in the freezer the night before, and then place them in the lunch box. They act as extra cold packs for your child’s lunch that’ll thaw and be ready to drink by lunchtime. You can also use reusable ice packs if you are trying to keep your food dry and want to avoid sogginess. Some reusable ice packs are designed to fit nicely in lunchboxes without taking up too much space.
- Throw away leftovers. If your child brings home an uneaten container of yogurt, a partially-eaten sandwich or other food they did not finish, throw it in the trash or compost bin. Any leftover food in their lunch box that has been warm for too long is likely no longer safe to eat. The same goes for any warm food, which has most likely cooled to an unsafe temperature.
- Pack small portions. This tip is especially useful for packing lunch for your kids. Young school-age children generally eat small portions of food. To avoid food spoiling, don’t pack large amounts of food in your child’s lunch. This will also save you from having to waste a lot of food at the end of the school day.
9. Do not reuse disposable packaging such as sandwich bags. Used disposable packaging could harbor bacteria and could cause illness. If you want to go green with your child’s lunch box, opt for environmentally friendly – but still safe – and reusable lunch containers and packaging that can be washed and sanitized, such as reusable sandwich wrappers.
Got a question or anything I can help with? My name is Steve Stretton, and I’m the owner and manager at Gelpacks.com. You can drop me a line here. Good luck!