Studies undertaken by scientists from the New South Wales Food Authority (NSWFA) have revealed an alarming presence of harmful bacteria in school lunch boxes. The studies, conducted in 2006 and 2009 during hot summer days, focused on storage temperatures of school lunch boxes.
The results of the NSWFA studies revealed high levels of bacteria growth in lunch boxes without a “temperature control device” such as a frozen drink or ice brick. Lunch boxes containing frozen drink or ice brick had 3 times lower levels of bacteria than lunch boxes stored at ambient temperature. Put simply, the warmer food is, and the longer it stays warm, the more bacteria grow.
The studies revealed round a quarter of packed school lunches do not include an ice brick or frozen water bottle. So there is an opportunity for many households to take essential steps to improve the safety of their school lunches.
What can you do to improve lunch box food safety?
The NSWFA and QLD Health recommend the following steps to keep school lunches cooler and minimise the growth of bacteria:
- When choosing a lunchbox, look for one that is easy to clean and dry. Use insulated lunch boxes or cooler bags.
- Place a frozen drink bottle or ice brick inside the lunch box or bag, next to foods that should be kept cold
- Avoid high-risk foods like soft cheese, deli meats and home-made mayonnaise.
- If making lunch ahead of time, freeze it or keep it in the fridge until leaving for school.
- Some foods are safe without a frozen ice pack or other cold sources. These include whole fruits, vegetables, hard cheeses, canned meat and fish, bread, crackers and some spreads.
- Encourage children to keep packed lunches away from heat sources such as direct sunlight.
- Encourage children to discard all leftover food after eating, including disposable food packaging like cling wrap or paper bags. Don’t reuse these items.
To read the findings of the study and for more tips on safe school lunch box packing, visit the NSWFA website.