Keep your child’s lunchbox safe

29/01/2014 Help for Parents, Lunchbox

No matter the time of year, keeping school lunches cool and safe is essential in order to minimise the risk of food poisoning. In fact, a recent study found that lunchboxes without a frozen source (such as an ice brick or frozen water bottle), contained far more bacteria than those that did contain a frozen source. 

In order to grow, bacteria needs four things – time, temperature (between 5 and 60°C) moisture and food. Kids may not eat their lunch for up to five hours after they leave home. For much of this time it is likely to be sitting in a warm school bag providing the perfect conditions for bacteria to multiply to dangerous levels.

To demonstrate the importance of keeping lunch boxes cool, the NSW Food Authority recently conducted a survey to test how warm lunch contents get on a sunny day, with or without ice bricks and frozen drinks.

Lunchbox contents were tested after they had been left in a shady spot on a 25°C day. The results showed that sandwiches in a paper bag were up to 12°C warmer than the lunch box that contained a frozen drink. Sandwiches kept in a lunchbox without a frozen drink or ice brick were not much cooler than the paper bag. And, as expected, at the end of the five hours there was far more bacteria in the sandwiches in the paper bag and lunchbox without a frozen drink or ice brick, than there were in the cooled lunch boxes.

NSW Food Authority’s Tips for safe school lunches:

  • Use insulated lunchboxes or cooler bags.
  • Pack a frozen drink bottle or freezer brick inside the lunch box or bag, next to foods that should be kept cold, for example cheese, yoghurt, meat and salad.
  • If making lunch ahead of time, keep it in the fridge until leaving for school or freeze them in advance.
  • Some food is safe without a cold source such as a frozen ice pack. These include whole fruits, vegetables, hard cheeses, meat and fish in cans, bread, crackers and some spreads.
  • Ask children to keep packed lunches out of direct sunlight and away from heat sources. A cool, dark place like a locker is better than a sunny school corridor.

The NSW Food Authority website has some hints for safe school lunchbox packing and plenty of information on food safety: