More Than 90% Of Preschoolers Carry Sack Lunches That Are Unsafe


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?

Related Story

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Photo Credit: Apreche


William C
William C5 months ago


W. C
W. Cabout a year ago

Thank you.

Jennifer C.
Past Member 6 years ago

Good reading. Thanks for posting.

Past Member
Inari T6 years ago

Like so many others who've commented here, I grew up before classrooms were air-conditioned, and even before plastic cling-wrap was common, and we took our greasproof-paper wrapped sandwiches to school in a paper bag - no insulation, no ice-packs - and yet, miraculously, we survived!! :-)

dawn w.
Dawn W6 years ago

Weird,when I was in school the lunches I brought never made me sick.But then,bringing my own lunch was rare,I mostly bought lunch.Still,other kids who brought their lunch everyday didn't get sick because of it,I don't think.

Mayra L.
Mayra G6 years ago

in lieu of peanut butter there are other nut butters available. there's cashew just to name one. and that way the children will be able to get their nutrients.

Tim Cheung
Tim C6 years ago


Myriam G.
Myriam G6 years ago

I used to love a PBJ sandwich for lunch as a kid, like many commented on this site. Unfortunately, peanuts are forbidden at my kids' school, like at many other schools where I live.

Daniel Kelley
Daniel Kelley6 years ago

@Susan T.

I haven't found a jelly that didn't sting my kidney's since 2009. That's when Obama's EPA approved arsenic mercury coal ash for "beneficial use" to be dumped in farm fields, that corn be rendered massively toxic and high fructose corn syrup be devastating acid. Even the jelly's I've found that had no HFCS had corn syrup and as much stung my kidney's. Unless you make your own jelly without corn syrup, PB&J sandwiches are NOT a good idea. They are swift death.

Daniel Kelley
Daniel Kelley6 years ago

Why is a fridge in the school not made available to students? It seems kinda outrageous when you think about what they expect kids to eat after enforcing their lunch sit out at room temperature for 4 hours. Ridiculous. It seems, if this is a question of refrigeration being necessary, that refrigeration should be provided by who has imposed these conditions, that kids be no where near fresh food unless they maintain their own portable refrigeration, ridiculous.