Kids’ Lunches: Sack ‘Em, Or Better Pack ‘Em? Researchers Find Most Unsafe

Packed lunches—sent lovingly by parents to make sure their kids get healthy food—could actually make them sick, alarming new statistics from UT researchers show.

A new study conducted by UT nutritional scientists found that more than 90 percent of sack lunches prepared at home and sent with children to preschool were kept at unsafe temperatures, increasing the odds of contracting food-borne illnesses.

UT researcher Fawaz Almansour and his colleagues examined the lunches of more than 700 preschoolers at nine Texas childcare centers for the study.

They suggest the best storage temperature for cold foods is below 40 degrees and above 140 degrees for hot food. Anything in between is considered the “danger zone,” allowing for the growth of harmful bacteria.

Less than two percent of the children’s lunches with perishable items such as meats, cheeses or vegetables were kept at a safe temperature. More than 90 percent of all lunches were in the danger zone.

According to the study, 88 percent of the lunches were at room temperature 90 minutes prior to lunchtime, even with multiple ice packs.

However, the researchers are quick to point out that ice packs can be beneficial—if there are enough to make a difference. Only 4 percent of the lunches studied had more than a single pack.

“The simple addition of one extra ice pack could have prevented many of the perishable items in lunches from reaching the danger zone,” they wrote in the study, which will be published in the September issue of the journal Pediatrics.

So next time you’re packing a lunch, throw two or more ice packs in to prevent any food-borne illnesses—and add some extra-cool relief from the August heat.


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