Temperature is key for keeping school lunches safe

By • Published: January 24th, 2012
Category: Health in a Heartbeat

You pile on the turkey and cut off the crusts, just the way your little one likes it. Throw in her favorite yogurt cup and tomorrow’s lunch for Pre-K is good to go.

Or is it? The results of a new study may make you rethink what you pack in your child’s lunch … or send you straight to the school’s front office to have a long chat about the powers of refrigeration.

A group of Texas researchers made the rounds at daycare centers and found something rather unsavory … nearly all the items in the lunches kids brought to school were stored at unsafe temperatures. Even lunches with icepacks did not stay cool.

In all, less than a quarter of the perishable foods found in children’s lunch boxes were maintained at safe temperatures. In fact, the average temperature foods were stored at was 63 degrees, smack in the middle of what experts consider the food safety danger zone. Basically, any foods stored between 40 and 140 degrees are more at risk for breeding dangerous bacteria, like Salmonella and E. coli.

Exposure to these bacteria is bad for anybody but particularly for small children, whose young immune systems aren’t geared to fight them as well yet.

So what should a parent do, short of buying a portable refrigerator to strap on your child’s back? Talk to your daycare provider about refrigerating your child’s lunch. Also, avoid ingredients that spoil quickly. For example, try ketchup or mustard on sandwiches instead of mayonnaise, which is made with eggs. Another tip, freeze your child’s juice or water to help keep things cool. And though it seems counterintuitive, experts advise against packing lunches in insulated bags if they are being placed in a refrigerator. Insulated bags can actually prevent the fridge from doing its job and keeping your little one’s food cool.

One last tip? Don’t forget the fruits and veggies. A good lunch is a healthy lunch.