Whether your lunch is hot or cold, a thermal food storage container can help to keep it at a safe temperature until you’re ready to dig in.
The CDC estimates that about 1 in 6 Americans (or 48 million people) get sick, 128,000 are hospitalized, and 3,000 die of foodborne diseases each and every year, which makes ensuring packed lunches are kept at a safe temperature of the utmost importance. Young children, pregnant women and the elderly are all at increased risk of contracting a foodborne illness.
The most popular brand of thermal food storage containers is Thermos and like Kleenex and facial tissue, the brand name is frequently used in conversation to refer to thermal food storage containers. Please note that in this post we will use the word thermos to refer not only to the brand but to thermal food storage containers in general.
Factors to Consider When Selecting a Thermos
Read the instructions that came with your container. The directions will let you know how long your container will keep hot foods hot and cold foods cold. This will vary depending on the size of the container and materials used as well as whether or not it is double (or triple) insulated.
Pack hot foods steaming hot and cold foods ice cold. Foods will need to be packed at at least 165F (for hot items) and 40F or below for cold items to be safe to eat. If you open your thermal food storage container and find the food is not appropriately hot or cold, throw it out as the risk of foodborne illness has increased. Once opened, discard any uneaten food.
Your food will need some liquid. A thermos can only keep hot foods hot and cold foods cold if it has some liquid in it, such as soups and stews. Without any liquid, the container will not be able to maintain a food-safe temperature and so food won’t be safe to eat after two hours.
Pre-heat or pre-chill. Your hot foods will stay warmer longer if you pre-heat the container with hot water (either from the tap or kettle works just fine) and your cold foods will stay colder longer if you put the container in the fridge or freezer to chill first. You can also fill the container with ice water and let sit for a few minutes to chill quickly. Discard water before packing your food.
Pack just before leaving. Your food will remain at a safe temperature longer the closer you can pack them before heading out the door.
Be careful opening. Hot foods can and do burn and young children are especially vulnerable. Offer assistance or take your time when opening a hot thermos.
Hand wash. While some thermal food storage containers are dishwasher-safe, you’ll extend the life of your thermos by hand washing it.
Thermos Safety Standards
When shopping for thermal food storage containers it’s important to look for a quality product that meets all safety standards. Depending on where it was manufactured, a product may or may not meet US safety standards. The Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) and Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act (CPSIA) provide guidelines for common materials used in the making of thermoses including plastics and metals. It’s worth noting that all Thermos brand products are:
- Free of phthalates or meet the limits required by law
- Made without BPA
- Made without lead or meet the limits required by law