August 18, 2011

Parents who pack a healthy school lunch for their children may not realize it could be harboring food-borne illnesses. A new study shows most bag lunches packed at home are not cold enough by the time kids sit down to eat lunch. The research found more than 90 percent of sack lunches were kept at unsafe temperatures, posing a health risk to children.

The study in the journal Pediatrics looked at temperatures of more than 700 school lunches containing at least one perishable food item. The temperature of the food was measured by a temperature gun about an hour and a half before the school lunches were served. Researchers found less than two percent of lunches with perishable food items were found to be in a safe temperature zone and more than 90 percent were kept at unsafe temperatures.

Nutritional scientists at the University of Texas at Austin who conducted the study say the best storage temperature is below 40 degrees for cold foods and above 140 degrees for hot foods. Temperatures in between are considered in the danger zone with the potential for harmful bacteria growth and food-borne illness.

45 percent of the lunches had at least one ice pack while 39 percent had none at all. Researchers say parents need to be educated on safe food packing practices in order to prevent bacteria from growing. They say the simple addition of one extra icepack could have prevented many of the perishable items from reaching the danger zone.