A new study from the University of Texas in Austin found that 98 percent of packed lunches in a study group of kids were not at the right temperature for safe eating.
The Journal of Pediatrics reports that the team examined 700 packed lunches for kids ages 3 to 5 who attended day care. They found that parents incorrectly packed food to stay as cold or as hot as it needed to be to prevent bacteria growth.
“I was shocked to discover that almost 40 percent of the time, parents had not packed an ice pack in their child’s lunch,” said Fawaz Almansour, a study co-author with the Department of Nutrition at the University of Texas at Austin.
“And even for lunches with ice packs, more than 90 percent of perishable foods had entered the danger zone of food temperature. When foods that should stay chilled, such as milk, meat and sliced fruits, reach temperatures above 40 degrees Fahrenheit, it’s risky to eat them, especially if they’ve sat longer than two hours, which most children’s lunches do on a daily basis.”
“For hot items like a thermos of soup, the temperature needs to stay at 140 degrees or above. When temperatures deviate from the safe zone, bacteria find a fertile playground, potentially spoiling food and sickening people who consume it. If your child complains of a stomach ache, is vomiting or has diarrhea, it’s not necessarily a bug caught from another child. It may be from the food he ate that day.”
“According to the study, children three or younger are 4 1/2 times more likely than adults who are 49 or younger to suffer from a foodborne illness.”
“The researchers found that the average temperature for perishable foods had climbed to 62 degrees by lunchtime, more than 20 degrees higher than recommended.”
Diane Van, deputy director of food safety education at the U.S. Department of Agriculture, offered tips to help parents
For cold foods
Freeze it you can.
“Before you head to bed, take your child’s milk, juice or water and put it in the freezer. It can then serve as a second ice pack and help keep other foods cold. You can also do this with other foods as such as yogurt or soft cheeses. When making a chicken sandwich or other perishable mainstay, put it in the freezer as well, leaving the lettuce and tomato in the refrigerator to be added later.”
Keep the lunch box colder by putting regular things – such as oranges or apples – in the fridge before you send them to school.
Get an insulated lunch box and double up ice packs.
For hot foods
Pour boiling water into the thermos before putting hot food in it. It will help maintain the necessary 140 degrees.
I read this article after I sent my kids to school with fried rice in their thermoses. I heated the fried rice in the microwave and made sure it was hot. But I didn’t heat the thermos. I waited to pick them up and have them doubled over from food poisoning.
My question is how can you keep the stuff in the thermos hot but keep the cantaloupe or juice box that you send in cold. You don’t want to put a cold pack in because I would think that would lower the thermos’ temperature.
I wish they made a thermos that could put in the microwave to heat up before you put the food in. Hmm. I’m going to check labels on that. That would be easier.
On the cold side of the dilemma, my kids and I are enthralled by the commercials for the “PackIt” lunch box. It’s a lunch box made of essentially ice packs that are kept in the freezer. The whole lunchbox is folded into the freezer. Then you pull it out in the morning and put the food in and it says it will stay cold for 10 hours. I was thinking about ordering them before but after reading this story I probably will. (But you still have the hot stuff, cold stuff problem even with this.)
So how are you packing your child’s lunch for school? Do you think you’re keeping it hot or cold enough? Does this story make you think you need to do some things differently? What’s the plan now? Have you tried the PackIt? Does it really work?
(Check out a related food blog: Keeping lunch interesting and healthy –what are you sending in?)
– Theresa Walsh Giarrusso, Momania for ajc.com