School Lunch
School lunch, when brought from home, can reach temperatures at which bacteria easily grow. Image: Flickr / seelenstrum / CC-BY

What students eat is constantly a matter of debate among politicians and parents. Lunches brought from home can be the healthiest option for many students. One new study, however, says that kids’ lunches brought from home reach unsafe temperatures more than 98 percent of the time.

The problem with healthy meals for kids

Getting kids to eat healthier can be very tough. Schools are often provided just a few dollars per student per day to feed them both breakfast and lunch. In many schools, pre-packaged and pre-processed foods are used in order to meet budgetary requirements. Pizza and hamburgers are common appearances in elementary lunchrooms. In many daycares, students are required to bring their own lunch because no lunch program is provided.

Student lunches reach unhealthy temperatures

Technically, any food that has a potential to grow bacteria should be kept either above 140 degrees or below 40 degrees. Long periods of time in the “danger zone” between those two temperatures lead to exponential bacterial growth, increasing the likelihood of food-borne illnesses. A study of lunches in daycare centers found that 11.8 percent of lunches were stored in refrigerators, but often only after they had been left out for several hours. The mean temperature of lunches by the time lunch time came around was 63.7 degrees, with only 22 of 1,361 perishable food items at a safe temperature. In short, almost 99 percent of preschoolers’ lunches are at temperatures considered in the “danger zone” by the time they are eaten.

Keeping brown bags safe

Despite the limitations of food-safety procedures available in many schools and daycare centers, brown bag lunches can often be the healthiest. The important thing is to pack lunches made of foodstuffs that are considered “non-potentially hazardous.” Raw vegetables are safe for days at room temperature, for example. Bread, nut butters, hummus and whole fruits are also also often safe at room temperature. Dry cereals, hard cheeses, dried sausages, canned foods and even yogurt are all safe at room temperatures for four to six hours.

Sources

Washington State University http://cru.cahe.wsu.edu/CEPublications/eb1490/eb1490.html
MedPage Today http://www.medpagetoday.com/Pediatrics/Parenting/27932
Canada.com http://www.canada.com/health/Kids+packed+lunches+warm+safe+Study/5221621/story.html?id=5221621

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