If you’re packing a lunch for your little one, don’t just think about what goes into the bag. Think about how to keep it cold. That’s the message from a new study by nutrition scientists at the University of Texas at Austin.
The study, released Monday in the journal Pediatrics, looked at temperatures of 705 lunches containing at least one perishable item belonging to 3- to 5-year-olds. Food was removed from containers and temperatures were measured by a temperature gun about an hour and a half before the lunches were served.
90% Of Lunches Reached Unsafe Temperatures
Looking at more than 700 lunches packed by parents for children at nine Texas preschools, they found more than 90 percent – even with multiple ice packs – reached unsafe temperatures. Cold foods should be kept below 40 degrees Fahrenheit, while hot foods need to be above 140 degrees. These lunches were between 40 and 140 degrees, the “danger zone.”
A large range of bacteria can grow in food in the danger zone, “too many for me to list,” says study author Fawaz Almansour, a graduate student in the university’s department of nutritional sciences. The best known food borne illness is probably E. coli, and preschoolers are four times more susceptible to infection than adults, Almansour explains.
His study, the first to look at the temperatures of preschoolers’ sack lunches, was published online on August 8, and in the September issue of Pediatrics. Almansour says the results were a surprise, as he knew many parents were using ice packs. “We didn’t know the temperatures were bad when we went in,” he says. “I was shocked. More than 90%. That’s really high.”
Here’s How To Keep That Lunch In The Safe Zone
1. Keep your child’s food refrigerated until you are ready to leave the house in the morning. “Don’t leave your food out on the counter in the morning,” says Almansour.
2. Place the food into the smallest insulated container that will hold it, along with multiple ice packs. He saw many parents in the study placing their child’s food in oversize containers. “The ice packs have a hard time cooling that.”
3. As soon as your child arrives at the childcare center, someone should take the food out of that insulated container and place it in a well-maintained, working refrigerator. The few centers with refrigerators in the study tended to leave the food in the containers, but this keeps the refrigerated air out of the lunch, and keeps it from cooling the food. Researchers also found refrigerators that were poorly maintained, or even left open.
And even though this report is about preschoolers’ lunches, how about keeping your own lunch in the safe zone?
Photo Credit: Apreche