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Children's Sack Lunches Kept Too Hot, Leading to Foodborne Illness

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It’s getting to be that time of year again–the weather is getting to be just a bit cooler, and soon the leaves will be falling and school will be back in session. Like many parents of young children that are trying to save a few bucks during these tough times, you might opt to send your kids to school with sack lunches instead of the more expensive (and often less nutritious) hot lunches provided at school. However, keeping your child’s sack lunch cool during the day is vitally important, particularly since researchers recently discovered that sack lunches left out at room temperature for several hours are a breeding ground for illness-inducing bacteria. Unfortunately, even packing one of those little coolers inside your child’s lunch box won’t necessarily keep the food cold enough to avoid contamination.

The study, published in the September issue of Pediatrics, looked at 705 sack lunches at Texas childcare centers 90 minutes before lunch time. Although nearly half of the lunches contained a cooling pack, only 1.6% of the lunches were at a temperature considered "safe"–99% of dairy items, 97% of meats, and 99% of vegetables weren’t kept cold enough.

To protect your child, the USDA recommends that parents freeze some types of sandwiches (without mayonnaise) the night before to keep them cold until lunch time. If that doesn’t sound too appeasing (and it doesn’t to me), then make sure to buy your child a well-insulated lunch box with a frozen ice pack or juice box. Overall, experts agree that too-warm food is just one source of foodborne illness. They point to the more common sources of foodborne illness–home kitchen contamination and insufficiently cooked meat.