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Brown Bag Lunch For Kids A Cause Of Illness?

August 8, 2011

Recently researchers tested packed lunches of more than 700 school children and found less than two percent of the meats, vegetables and dairy products were in a safe temperature zone, increasing the risk of foodborne illness for the children who bring them into day care and school.

“It was a shock when we discovered that more than 90 percent of the perishable items in these packed lunches were kept at unsafe temperatures,” said Fawaz Almansour, a doctoral student at the University of Texas at Austin.

Researchers from the University of Texas took a temperature-measuring device into nine of the state’s child care centers to measure the packed lunches of children between the ages of 3 and 5. What they found after checking the temperature of foods that could harbor these bugs was that more than nine out of 10 of these items were kept at temperatures considered unsafe, Reuters Health is reporting.

They also found that even the lunches that included ice packs or were stored in a refrigerator were still usually warm enough to pose a concern.

“When the child comes back from the daycare center with a stomachache, they may think, “ËœOh, maybe they caught a virus from someone else,’” Almansour told ABC News. “You don’t think what you pack at home would be the cause.”

Foodborne illness is an issue of concern for all age groups. According to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), an estimated 76 million people in the US become ill from foodborne bugs every year, and about 5,000 of these cases are fatal, ABC News reports.

But the authors of the study note that these illnesses are of special concern when it comes to young children. CDC studies in 2009 found that children younger than 4 suffer food-related bacterial infection at a rate 4.5 times that experienced by adults 20 to 49.

“The risk from improperly refrigerated sack lunches is real, but relatively minor in the overall picture of foodborne illnesses,” explained Dr. Harley Rotbart, pediatric infectious diseases expert at the University of Colorado School of Medicine and author of Germ Proof Your Kids.

“The much greater risks come from inadequate hand washing, by food preparers and food consumers, and from home kitchen contamination of countertops, sinks and other inanimate objects with insufficiently cooked meat, chicken and fish.”

Dr. Michael Muszynski, professor of pediatric infectious diseases at the Florida State University College of Medicine in Tallahassee, called the results of the study “concerning, since even lunches packed with multiple ice packs reached unsafe temperatures that would encourage the growth of bacteria that cause food-related illnesses.”

He noted, however, “We do not know how the risks of sack lunches stack up to other sources of foodborne diseases in children.”

Dr. William Schaffner, chair of the Department of Preventive Medicine at Vanderbilt University School of Medicine in Nashville, Tenn., said he could not recall a case in which a sack lunch was a definite cause of foodborne illness in a child.

“Now, in fairness, that may be because a sack lunch causes only a single illness rather than an outbreak of disease, which is more likely to come to public health attention,” Schaffner said. “Nevertheless, if sack lunches were a regular problem, it would have come to attention.”

“This study is an eye-opener more than anything else,” Almansour explains. “It shows there is a problem.”

His recommendation? Pack the lunch with lots of ice packs, and have your kid take it out of the container at school and put it in the fridge.

The results of the study are published in the journal Pediatrics.

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