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Is Your Child’s Brown Bag Lunch Full of Bacteria?

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Food Poisoning related image Photo: Getty Images

A University of Texas study, published this month in the Journal of Pediatric Medicine, reported that nearly every single one of the preschool lunches they tested were kept at unsafe temperatures — temperatures that could lead to foodborne illnesses.

Ice packs didn’t seem to help either. According to the Federal Food Safety Information web site, the “safe” range for perishable food is less than 40 degrees. However, only five of the 61 lunches, holding perishable food and one or more packs of ice, registered a temperature in the safe-to-eat range. Lunches that were brought to the preschool that morning and refrigerated were no better off. Just four of the 458 items stored in the fridge were at the right temperature. Refrigeration is the best way to keep food at a safe temperature, but only if the items do not sit out for more than two hours.

The Federal Food Safety Information website has several recommendations to keep food safe until lunchtime rolls around for your student:

• Make sure that hands and work surfaces are clean when preparing the lunch in your kitchen. Children’s hands should be clean, too, before they touch their food. Many schools offer hand sanitizer as the students enter the lunch room.

• A frozen juice box can be used as a freezer cold pack and will be ready to sip by lunch.

• Be sure hot foods are in an insulated thermos.

• Decide to pack only items that are non-perishable (don’t need to be refrigerated) for instance, whole fruits and vegetables, mustard and pickles rather than mayo, peanut butter and jelly, crackers, canned meat or fish.

• If any uneaten food comes home, be sure to discard any perishable items.
Commonsense and a little planning is all it takes to make sure your child’s lunch will be safe from the bacteria that causes foodborne illnesses.


Study: Ice Packs Don’t Protect Bag Lunches. Neighbors Emergency Center Home page. Web. 10 Aug. 2011.

Study Finds Most Brown Bag Lunches Unsafe. Local 10 Homepage. Web. 10 Aug. 2011.

Keep School Lunches Safe. Foodsafety.gov. Web. 10 Aug 2011.

Reviewed August 15, 2011
by Michele Blacksberg R.N.
Edited by Jody Smith

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We value and respect our HERWriters' experiences, but everyone is different. Many of our writers are speaking from personal experience, and what's worked for them may not work for you. Their articles are not a substitute for medical advice, although we hope you can gain knowledge from their insight.

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