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Like a good mother, you prepare your child’s lunch thinking that home cooked food is far healthier than the stuff he gets outside. But then, are the lunches packed at home by mothers really safe? A new study says it isn't

Your Kid’s Lunch may be at an Unsafe Temperature by the Time it is Eaten

A new study done on the lunches carried by preschoolers has determined that the kid’s lunch may be at an unsafe temperature by the time it is eaten. They become hotter as the day goes by and may become unsafe for consumption by the time of lunch break in school.

According to the study, done by Fawaz Almansour, a doctoral student at the University of Texas in Austin, less than 2% of meats, vegetables and dairy products that the children carried in their lunch boxes were in the safe temperature zone. The results, which have been published in the latest issue of the journal “Pediatrics”, examined lunch packs of more than 700 preschoolers about one and a half hour before lunchtime.

"Almost all the perishable foods in the lunch packs were in the danger zone despite the fact that 45% of the packed lunches included an ice pack and 12% were kept in refrigerators!"

Perishable food products kept between 40 and 140 degrees Fahrenheit (4 to 60 degrees Celsius) for more than 2 hours is no longer fit for human consumption, as per the recommendations of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. This means that what the majority of kids are eating during lunch break is unsafe. This is a really scary finding!

Higher Temperature in the Lunch Packs can Provide a Breeding Ground for Bacteria

One in six Americans suffers from food poisoning every year. Bacteria like E.coli and Salmonella are the most common pathogens behind it. And these bacteria flourish and thrive at high temperatures. The higher temperature in the lunch packs can provide a breeding ground for bacteria. Thus, kids eating lunch at an unsafe temperature are prone to develop food poisoning. This can be especially dangerous for preschool kids.

The study revealed that even food kept with ice packs or in fridge can deteriorate over time. This is because the food is often packed in insulated containers, which prevent the food from getting cold even when kept in a refrigerator. Also, the temperature inside the school refrigerators is poorly maintained because of frequent opening.

So what are the poor mothers supposed to do in such a scenario?

  • Experts recommend that they should consider packing non perishable items like fruits and veggies, canned meat, etc.
  • The juices may be kept in a freezer before giving it to the kid so that they thaw by the time of lunch break without moving out of the safe temperature zone
  • The food may be transported to the school inside a cooler and then directly placed in a fridge.
  • You can also talk to the school authorities about maintaining the temperature of the school refrigerators and to minimize their opening before the lunch time of the kids.

  • “Kids' packed lunches too warm to be safe: study”, by Frederik Joelving, Reuters, published on Aug 8, 2011, accessed on Aug 14, 2011.
  • “Your Kid’s Lunch may be Harboring Bacteria”, by Christine,, published on Aug 9, 2011, accessed on Aug 14, 2011.
  • Photo courtesy of Wendy Copley on Flickr: