LOS ANGELES -- Think that turkey sandwich you packed for your kid's lunch will be at a safe temperature -- safe and sound from food-borne illness -- when they sit down to eat it? Maybe not -- a study finds that few sack lunches might be kept at proper temperatures until lunchtime.
The study, released Monday in the journal Pediatrics, looked at temperatures of 705 lunches containing at least one perishable item belonging to 3- to 5-year-olds at child-care centers in Texas. Food was removed from containers, and temperatures were measured with a temperature gun about 11/2 hours before the lunches were served.
What researchers found wasn't good: Only 1.6 percent of 1,361 perishable items were found to be in a safe temperature range. Broken down, 97.4 percent of meats, 99 percent of dairy items and 95.8 percent of vegetables weren't at an acceptable temperature.
About 45 percent of the lunches had one ice pack, and about 39 percent had no ice packs. Even having an ice pack didn't guarantee the food would be well-chilled. Among 618 perishable items that contained one pack, only 14 were in an acceptable temperature range.
Even storing food in a refrigerator wasn't always good enough. Only 0.9 percent of 458 items in 83 lunches kept in refrigerators used by teachers were in the right range.
A minority of the lunches (11.8 percent) were stored in refrigerators, while the rest were at room temperature, kept in a storage cube with not much air circulating.
Leaving food at unsafe temperatures for long periods can cause food-borne illnesses. So what's a parent to do?
Putting lunches in well-insulated lunch bags with cold packs surrounding perishable foods is a good place to start, says Ruth Frechman, a Burbank, Calif.-based registered dietitian and spokeswoman for the American Dietetic Association. She adds that food should not be left out for more than two hours.