Preschools are playgrounds not just for toddlers but also bacteria, and parents often blame their precious angels’ illnesses on the germy kids they play with at school. While you can certainly blame that filthy Thompson kid for your little darling’s fun with lice last year, if she got food poisoning or stomach flu, it’s entirely possible the real culprit lurks within that little brown bag with the drawing of a butterfly and a heart around her name that you send with her to school.
Texas researchers have conducted the first ever study of sack lunches, using a heat-sensing gun to test the temperatures of lunches at nine separate preschools/day cares on three occasions. Out of over 1,300 lunches, 22 were at temperatures considered safe. Even a great deal of those lunches packaged with an ice pack fell within the Danger Zone—not the Kenny Loggins song, but the temperature range of 40-140 degrees were bacteria like E. coli, salmonella, and staphylococcus like to get all fruitful and multiple.
This is pretty alarming news, since young children are far more susceptible to serious complications from consuming unsafe foods, having not yet built up immunities to the bacterias that cause food poisoning.
I know that when I was a kid, my mom insisted on a sack lunch because school cafeteria food was unhealthy, but at least they were required by law to ensure the food served didn’t fall into the dreaded Danger Zone of unsafe food temperatures. Little did she know was actually sending me off with E. coli sandwiches and salmonella pudding cups. Guess those mini-pizzas don’t sound so bad now, do they mom?
Of course, all brown bag lunches needn’t be potentially lethal. If you send your child’s lunch along with her to daycare or preschool, ask the preschool whether they have a refrigerator for storing lunches—and ensure that they use it, because while three of the schools in the study had fridges for storing lunches, many of the teachers didn’t use them. I’m not sure how you go about ensuring this without seeming like an asshole—I’m thinking my approach would be, “so I read this study that really freaked me out, so do you mind if I ask you to place this lunch in the fridge while I watch? It’s not that I don’t trust you, it’s just that they told me not to trust you.” Whether or not the school has a fridge, package lunches with ice packs or frozen juice boxes, ensure the most perishable foods are kept cold next to the ice, and hold the mayo on those sandwiches—it’s pretty much like Mexican Viagra for salmonella.
Or, you know, let ‘em eat the unhealthy crap your daycare provider feeds them. Sure, Bagel Bites are hardly food (though the are delicious), but they’re probably safer than those Danimals you be packin’.