As summer day camps are in full swing and back-to-school season is just around the corner, the all-important question of what’s for lunch became more complicated this week with new research (1) suggesting that most sack lunches don’t remain at a safe temperature until lunch time. Researchers in Texas examined the temperatures of 705 lunches packed by parents for their preschool-aged children and found that, 1.5 hours before lunch time, only 1.6% of the perishable items packed were in a safe temperature zone. Although about 39% of the lunches did not have ice packs, of those that did, only 10% of perishable items were at a safe temperature. In many cases, storing lunch in the fridge didn’t help, either. So, how can parents pack a lunch that will stay safe at school or camp? First, they should use a well-insulated lunch bag and pack multiple ice packs around the food. Including a cold bottle of water or chilled piece of fruit and placing the insulated bag in the fridge the night before can also help. If a fridge is not available to keep the lunch cold at school or camp, they should avoid packing leftovers from last night’s dinner, since these may become unsafe more quickly than fresh food. And, if possible, they should pack lunches that aren’t perishable in the first place. Snack packs of dried fruit and veggies or all-natural fruit cups without added sugar, whole grain breads and crackers spread with nut or seed butter, trail mix, whole grain cereals and shelf-stable, unopened packs of milk or 100% juice all make great, safe choices.
(1) Almansour, FD et al. 2011 Aug 8. Pediatrics.