Heart Health

Is your child’s sack lunch safe?

August 12, 2011
CHI Health


Is your child’s sack lunch safe?

Lunch BoxImagine learning that your favorite restaurant was found to store more than 98% of its perishable food items (meat, dairy, vegetables) at unsafe temperatures. Would you continue to eat there? Or would you demand changes to ensure your family is safe?

What would you say if I told you that these statistics aren’t exaggerated? Would you be shocked to find out that this is the situation we’re potentially putting our children in every day?

A group of researchers from the University of Texas studied the sack lunches of more than 700 3-5 year old children at nine central Texas child care centers. Their goal: to find out if the food brought in sack lunches is stored at dangerous temperatures (between 39.2oF and 140oF). Their findings, published in the September 2011 Journal of the American Academy of Pediatrics, might surprise you.

Out of the 700+ lunches, there were 1,361 perishable items. Of those – only 22 (TWENTY TWO!) were found to be stored at an acceptable temperature. It didn’t make a whole heck of a difference if parents packed one, two, three – even four ice packs. And, surprisingly, the meals stored in refrigerators didn’t fare much better, either.

Pretty scary stuff, huh? Now take into account that the researchers, all nutrition and/or public health experts, warn that, “Foods left in the temperature zone of 39.2oF to 140oF for >2 hours are unsafe to consume and must be discarded because of the production of heat-resistant toxins by bacteria that can cause foodborne illness.”

Think this is an anomaly? Think again. In 2009, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention confirmed that children younger than four years old have 4.5 times the number of bacterial infection incidents transmitted through food compared with adults aged 20-49 years.

So how can you fix such a widespread problem? Experts have suggested everything from no longer sending sack lunches with your children to packing only non-perishable items. Or you could find an option somewhere in the middle and choose foods that are less likely to cause foodborne illness, like pre-packaged applesauce cups or trail mix – and replace the typical turkey sandwich with whole grain bread and soy nut butter.

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