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Published on Aug 22, 2012 by Edgar Snyder

Is Your Child's Lunchbox Harboring Harmful Bacteria?

school lunch food poisoning

When it comes to school lunches, parents typically have concerns about the nutritional quality of cafeteria food, or whether or not their child will trade their healthy homemade lunches for junk food. Many parents aren't aware that they may put their children at risk for foodborne illnesses.

Unfortunately, every year 1 in 6 Americans gets sick from foodborne diseases, and if the food in your child's lunchbox reaches unsafe temperatures, he or she could be one of the millions affected. Did you know that a recent study conducted by researchers at the University of Texas showed that 90% of preschoolers' lunches reach unsafe temperatures?

Known as the "thermal danger zone", bacteria thrive in temperatures between 40oF and140oF. But by taking the following precautions, parents can help prevent their child's lunches from becoming contaminated with harmful bacteria:

  • Keep it cool at school. Lunches that are packed at home should be kept cool throughout the day. Insulated lunch bags filled with an icepack are the best choice for keeping lunches cold. However, if you're using paper bags, consider double-bagging to create an additional layer of insulation.
  • Refrigerate if possible. If your child's day care or classroom has a refrigerator, ask to use it.
  • Keep hot foods hot. Use a thermos if you're packing your child a hot lunch. When hot foods like soup or Spaghetti-Os cool down, they provide a breeding ground for harmful bacteria.
  • When in doubt, throw it out. Reusing paper lunch bags, sandwich bags, foil, or plastic wrap may be a great way to save some money, but they can be contaminated with bacteria. If possible, use new bags every time.

Many times food poisoning is preventable. It's something that all parents should keep in mind when sending their kids off to school with homemade lunches. For more information on food safety, visit our food poisoning prevention page

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