The Packed Lunch Fearmongering Is Going Too Far

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Beginning next month, I’ll be packing lunches for my little one as she heads off to Junior Kindergarten. And being the completely overwhelmed mother I am, I’m wondering how well this will go. When I used to pack lunches for her playgroup, I packed exactly the same lunch — or almost exactly the same lunch — for a year and a half. It was usually some hummus and carrots, whatever fruit we had on hand and some cheese. I wouldn’t be surprised if that’s largely how I roll in the coming year. I go for ease when rushing out the door in the morning.

But Reuters Health reports that there’s a huge crisis with such packed lunches. No, really, it’s a horrible situation. Apparently 98% of all packed lunches are at unsafe temperatures! That’s what a Texas study of 700 preschool lunches found.

“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 in Austin.

His study, released on Monday in the journal Pediatrics, is the first to check how the food that kids’ bring to school is doing about an hour and a half before lunchtime.

All perishable foods kept between 40 and 140 degrees Fahrenheit (4 to 60 degrees Celsius) for more than two hours are unsafe for eating. The study showed that almost half of all lunches included an ice pack and 12 percent were kept in the fridge but almost all were dangerously above temperature.

The story tells us that E. coli and Salmonella “could” be multiplying quickly inside these lunches.

Here’s what I’d like to know. Did a single one of these “dangerous” lunches actually cause a single instance of food poisoning? I mean, how dangerous is “dangerous” if 98% of preschoolers are doing it with no deleterious effect? And we all know that ever-so-slightly-warmer-than-ice-cold packed lunches are infinitely healthier than those warmed over, gloppy school lunches anyway.

I’m going to continue to pack the lunch with ice cubes that magically transform into potable water as they melt in her cute little canteen and not worry too much about how I’m supposedly threatening her life.