Kids everywhere bring brown bags for lunch to school and camp. The important question is: are they safe?
This week, the prestigious journal Pediatrics published a study where researchers in Texas tested more than 700 preschool sack lunches, on three different days. The classrooms were air conditioned, due to the fact that the average temperature outside was around 80 degrees Fahrenheit. Testing was conducted about an hour and a half before the kids ate. The researchers found that only 1.6% of the perishable foods tested were at safe temperatures for consumption.
The types of foods that were a concern were meats, dairy, and veggies. More than 97% percent of them were stored at unsafe temperatures. Even the lunches that had ice packs in them were found to be in the danger zone. Many of the lunches that were stored in the fridge were unsafe. The refrigerators weren’t cold enough inside; they were either old or the doors were opened too often.
To be safe, the perishable foods should be at 40 degrees or below. Meanwhile, the average temperature of the lunches in the study was 62 degrees. Temperatures between 40 and 140 for more than two hours cause harmful bacteria like E. coli, Salmonella, and staph to grow and multiply. Preschoolers are particularly susceptible to food borne illness.
Dieticians say parents should put lunches in well-insulated lunch bags with cold packs surrounding perishable foods. Keep the packed lunch in the refrigerator until the child is ready to go to school. Check with your child’s school or daycare center to see if you can put your child’s lunch in their fridge.
There are certain foods you may want to stay away from. Avoid making lunches with mayonnaise, which contains eggs and spoils quickly. In addition, you may want to avoid yogurt and milk products that require refrigeration. Make sure to stay away from meat, especially leftovers. Throw away all perishable uneaten food that comes home in the lunchbox. Don’t try to save it for tomorrow.
Focus on vegetables, fruits and whole grains. Shelf-stable applesauce and fruit cups, and whole grain breads with nut butters and trail mix are healthy, and can stand the heat of an un-chilled lunch box.
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