School Lunches Are Not Cool (Enough)

Tests of more than 700 preschoolers’ packed lunches found that fewer than two per cent of the meats, vegetables and dairy products were cool enough to be safe, according to a U.S. study.

One in six U.S. residents gets food poisoning every year, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), but it is unclear how many cases are caused by lukewarm sack lunches.

The study by Fawaz Almansour, a doctoral student at the University of Texas in Austin, was the first to check how the food that children take to school is doing in terms of health about 90 minutes before they eat it.

“It was a shock when we discovered that more than 90 per cent of the perishable items in these packed lunches were kept at unsafe temperatures,” Almansour said.

According to his study, published inPediatrics,some 705 lunches packed by parents for children in full-time day-care centres were checked for the temperature of perishable food items and the number of ice packs included.

Foods that should be kept cold, for example, should be thrown away if they are left at a temperature more than 4.7 C or 39.2 F for more than two hours because bacteria can produce toxins during that time that can cause food poisoning.

Some 39 per cent of the lunches had no ice packs, while 45 per cent had at least one. Some 12 per cent were kept in refrigerators.

Still, 88.2 per cent of lunches were at ambient temperatures.

“Even with multiple ice packs, the majority of lunch items were at unsafe temperatures,” Almansour and colleagues wrote.

Almansour said the study had been an “eye-opener.”

“It shows there is a problem,” he added, recommending that lunches be packed with lots of ice packs and refrigerated once the children arrive at school.

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