Parents generally want their children to eat a healthy lunch at school. While many schools offer a hot lunch option to students, some parents would rather prepare and pack their kid’s lunch at home. Those who do may try to be safe by putting their kid’s lunch in an insulated lunch bag to keep it cold until it is time for their child to eat.
A recent test conducted by the KATU Problem Solvers revealed a potentially dangerous health risk posed by insulated lunch bags, a risk most parents may not realize exists. After conducting multiple tests on three different insulated bags, manufactured by three separate companies, this is what KATU found after just one hour:
- The first test revealed that none of the bags were able to keep the contents (which consisted of a turkey sandwich, an apple, a pack of goldfish snacks and a thermometer) at a safe temperature, 40 degrees or below.
- The second test involved adding all new contents, along with an ice pack into the bags. Again, none of the bags kept the food at a safe temperature.
USDA Recommendations on Perishable Foods
As the USDA states perishable foods cannot be left out in temperatures above 40 °F for more than two hours, less if the ambient temperature rises above 90 °F, it does not appear that an insulated lunch bag is able to do the job parents expect. Most children eat lunch at least three hours after they arrive at school. Unless their lunch bag is able to be stored in some type of refrigerated container, neither an insulated lunch bag nor an ice pack is going to keep their food cold enough.
Keeping Your Child’s “Sack Lunch” Cold and Safe to Eat
The following recommendations can be used as a guide to help you properly pack your kid’s lunch so the food will remain cold and safe for him or her to eat:
- Wash your hands thoroughly before you start preparing and packing your child’s lunch.
- Keep all food preparation areas clean.
- Use separate cutting boards and utensils to avoid cross contamination and the spread of harmful bacteria.
- Prepare your child’s lunch only using foods that have been stored at the correct temperatures.
- Prepare only what you think your child will eat. You don’t want your child wasting food nor do you want him or her storing uneaten, perishable food.
- Obtain a lunch bag with a freezable gel built into all surfaces of the bag. If you are unable to do this, it may be okay to use an insulated bag as long as you surround all perishable food items by two or more frozen gel packs to keep the food cold. (NOTE: Be sure the packs do not touch the surface of the food item itself.)
- Use warm water and soap to clean out all reusable lunch bags, every day after use.
If you feel are unable to properly pack your child’s lunch so perishable food items remain at 40 °F or below, you may want to consider having your child buy lunch at school. Check with your child’s school to find out what type of nutritious lunch options are available.