98% of Packed School Lunches May Harbor Food Illness

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school lunchHow safe, or how hazardous is your kid’s packed lunch? Imagine this; out of around 1,300 foods in preschoolers’ lunch boxes, only 22 foods were found to be temperature safe. That means 98% of the food is potentially hazardous!

The Preschool Packed Lunch Study

A study was carried out in Texas where researchers visited nine preschool centers during three separate instances. They determined the temperature of sandwiches, yogurts, as well as other perishable foods using a heat-sensing gun. About 1,300 foods were tested. Half of the lunches had ice packs.

The results of the study were published in the journal Pediatrics.

The Findings

The general finding was that the lunches reached unsafe temperatures at least 98% of the time. The average temperature of the perishables measured was 63.7 F°. Even those that had ice packs still had issues with high temperatures.

The study noted that children under the age of 4 years experience bacterial infections that are food-related at a higher rate than adults aged 20-49, that is, at least 4.5 times more.


The study abstract concluded with:

“These results provide initial data on how frequently sack lunches sent by parents of preschool-aged children are kept at unsafe temperatures. Education of parents and the public must be focused on methods of packing lunches that allow the food to remain in the safe temperature zone to prevent foodborne illness.”

Just so parents know, foods that are safe when temperatures are 40 degrees and less include eggs, meat, yogurt, peeled or cut veggies or fruit, soft cheese, pasta salad and fruit juice containers that have been opened.

The following foods are safe at normal room temperature: cereal, fruit juice containers that are unopened, uncut veggies and fruit, bread, nuts, crackers, dried fruit and hard cheese.

So, how do you keep your child’s brown bag safe?

A brown bag lunch is without a doubt healthier for your child than school lunches that feature pre-processed foods, hamburgers and pizza. Foods that are potentially not hazardous are safer for your child to carry and healthier. Some of those foods are listed above.

You could also use plastic wraps and not foil when wrapping foods. Foil retains more heat. Another tip is to make the meal the night before and put it in the refrigerator with the lunch bag so that it remains much cooler for a longer period. Lastly, get a blue ice pack and place it right at the bottom for some temperature sensitive foods. Dairy items and meat are top on the extremely temperature sensitive foods and E.coli or salmonella thrive when the conditions are right.

All these measures should at least help you rest easier that your child won’t be off to school and come home with a sick tummy.

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