Brown bag lunches overheating and possibly unsafe

by Deborah Braconnier report
Brown bag lunches overheating and possibly unsafe

In a new study published in Pediatrics, researchers reveal that more than 90 percent of the perishable food items found in the school lunches they tested had reached unsafe temperatures by the time they were to be eaten by children.

With the start of school quickly approaching, many parents are preparing to begin the daily ritual of making those famous brown bag lunches that they feel provide a healthy and safe meal for their while at school. Unfortunately this new study shows that these lunches may not be as healthy as some parents think. Even the use of ice packs was not enough to keep the foods from rising in temperature.

The study, led by Fawaz D. Almansour from the University of Texas at Austin, looked at lunches from 235 daycare children at nine different Texas locations on three random days between 9:30 and 11 a.m.

Out of a total of 705 lunches examined only 11.8 percent were kept refrigerated. Out of the lunches, 91 percent were sent in insulated plastic lunch bags but even these bags were not able to hold the temperature. The majority of the perishable reached near room temperature at an average of 63.7F. Out of a total 1361 perishable food items tested, only 22 items were in a safe temperature range below 39.2F.

Ice packs were not as much help as many parents think they are. A total of 61 perishable foods were packed in containers with ice packs and only five of these stayed in the proper temperature range.

Unfortunately, even those lunches stored in the were not safe from . A total of 458 perishable items were stored in the refrigerator in their insulated lunch bags, but only four items were within the safe temperature range. Researchers believe this has to do with how long items may have been left out at room temperature before being placed in the refrigerator or that the insulated bags were keeping the cooler temps out.

The researchers point out that the time that these temperatures were taken was at least 1.5 hours before the children were set to eat their lunch, meaning the temperatures are probably warmer when the children actually get to eat.

According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, all perishable foods kept at temperatures above 40F should be thrown away after two hours. This shows that the majority of lunches being sent to school with children are unsafe by the time they get to eat it.

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adamindc
4.7 / 5 (3) Aug 09, 2011
Yeah, because this was never a "problem" in the past. I'm sure we were about to have an epidemic of dead brown baggers this year.
Jordian1
5 / 5 (2) Aug 09, 2011
I was under the impression that food temperatures were only a problem over a longer period, like 8 hrs. I highly doubt anything is going to grow in your food in the 4 hrs between making your lunch and eating it. Besides, your body is built to withstand a ton of stuff. People 100 years ago used to eat rotten meat flavored with salt.
axemaster
5 / 5 (4) Aug 09, 2011
Wow. So terrifying!

*Chomps on day-old pasta*

Man, you'd think people were made of glass, the way this article sounds. So pitiful.
Techno1
4.2 / 5 (5) Aug 09, 2011
Yeah, this is kinda ridiculous.

A bagged lunch isn't going to become infected by anything that wasn't already there, regardless of temperature.

In order to get inside a rolled brown bag, it would need to be airbourne, which would have infected the children anyway.

There is also something to be said for the statement, "Whatever doesn't kill you makes you stronger."

Over vaccination and over-protectedness may end up making people more vulnerable to other nasties in the future.
Magnette
5 / 5 (2) Aug 09, 2011
Next they'll be telling us that eating day old, left-over cold pizza is bad for you.

At this rate our immune systems won't be able to cope with anything a couple of generations down the line.

KBK
5 / 5 (1) Aug 09, 2011
Yeah, this is kinda ridiculous.

A bagged lunch isn't going to become infected by anything that wasn't already there, regardless of temperature.

In order to get inside a rolled brown bag, it would need to be airbourne, which would have infected the children anyway.

There is also something to be said for the statement, "Whatever doesn't kill you makes you stronger."

Over vaccination and over-protectedness may end up making people more vulnerable to other nasties in the future.


MY Bro-in-law used to work in a class 1 clean room.

They had to get out and get dirty every 4 hours.

If they did not, the history of these types of facilities had clearly shown that their immune systems would start to shut down.
krundoloss
5 / 5 (3) Aug 09, 2011
Yeah, throw away anything that has been above 40 for two hours? WTF, food lasts alot longer than that! That might apply to milk or chicken salad or something, but most foods are fine for 6 hrs or more. And yes, we need germs to keep our immune systems working. So everyone, please ignore this article!
Jaeherys
5 / 5 (1) Aug 09, 2011
Starting with only 1 bacterium with an average cell cycle of 20 minutes in 8 hours there could be as many as ~1.7x10^7 bacteria. Being very generous and starting with only 100 000 bacteria after 4 hours there could be up to ~4.1x10^8 of the little buggers. Granted you probably would not see such high growth rate unless you live in a hot/moist environment.

So unless random chance lands you a deadly bacterium then those numbers are so small there would be little effect on a human.

As a comparison, there are about 1.0x10^15 bacteria in the human intestines called intestinal flora.
PPihkala
not rated yet Aug 09, 2011
What I think they try to tell here is that this brown bag food delivery system is less than ideal. If someone tried to sell food stored like that in school, they would lose their permit. To me this seems as a way to report of problems with this lunch delivery system.

In fact here in Finland we have none such a problem, because parents do not pack their children with food. We have typically meals prepared at the school and in public schools that is provided free for the students. And because it is prepared centrally, it's much easier to manage it's temperature and other hygienic properties. Even at universities it's subsidized, so it's still better choice than to bring your own lunch in a brown bag.
Vendicar_Decarian
1 / 5 (1) Aug 10, 2011
Given a reproductive period of 20 minutes and a time between packing and eating a lunch at 4 hours, this gives 12 doubling times, or a potential to increase bacterial contamination by about a factor of 4,000.

However most lunches employ heavily processed foods which include bacterial growth inhibitors, or are cooked foods that have been sterilized through the cooking.

In the case of processed foods, if the growth inhibitors even half the rate of bacterial growth, then the expansion of bacterial content increases only by a factor of 64.

These facts are why people normally don't get sick eating brown bag lunches.

Techno1
not rated yet Aug 10, 2011
PPihkala:

Wow. Your country is awesome.

In the U.S. kids get inferior education, have to pay for prepared lunches, and university costs a typical person a significant portion of their life's income to attend...
Isaacsname
not rated yet Aug 11, 2011
Mmmmmmm...warm PB and J sammiches.