Lunch box lunacy

Should we really be worried kids’ lunches aren’t refrigerated?


Newsflash: the contents of kids’ lunch pails are potentially poisonous! Or at least that’s what a study released last Monday in the journal Pediatrics (and reported on by Reuters, the Toronto Star and our own website) suggests. Apparently, 90 per cent of the perishable contents in more than 700 preschoolers’ packed lunches weren’t cold enough and could therefore leading to food poisoning on account of harmful bacteria multiplying. One of the doctoral students who worked on the study told Reuters that, “[It’s] an eye opener more than anything else.  It shows there is a problem.”

Really? Am I the only one that made it through primary, elementary and high school without ever having refrigerated my packed lunch? It wasn’t even an option. I called my mom last night to make sure I was remembering things correctly:

Me: Did it ever cross your mind that the lunches you packed me when I was a kid weren’t being refrigerated at school?

Mom: What’s going on?

Me: Well, there was this report released last Monday and—

Mom: Oh I saw that on the news and thought it was some sort of joke report.

Me: What do you mean, a joke?

Mom: You know how they do a joke news report on April Fool’s Day or track Santa on Christmas Eve? I thought it was one of those things. I mean, who the hell ever died of a packed lunch?

Me:  Did you ever think about putting in an ice pack in my lunch?

Mom: Of course not!

Me: Well, this report said that nearly half of the tested lunches had ice packs in them and 12 per cent were kept in refrigerators and they still came out in the red zone.

Mom: When I was a schoolgirl I took a lunch every day in a little square metal box.  I had egg salad sandwiches, or Prem and mustard sandwiches—

Me: What in the hell is Prem?

Mom: It’s like Spam. Or we had salmon sandwiches—all perishable stuff. I never once got sick. Do you remember the time that the health nurse was asking kids dietary questions and you had just been home sick the day before with a cold and so I made you Lipton’s chicken noodle soup for lunch and then you insisted on having it for dinner and then you wanted what was left over for breakfast the next day? When the nurse asked you what you’d had for your last three meals, you answered chicken noodle soup for all three. I was devastated.

Me: I don’t remember that but—

Mom: Or the time you told your grade one class for show and tell that I’d eaten an entire box of vanilla half moons?

I don’t recall that one either. But I do know that I was the go-to kid for lunch box trades: along with my bologna sandwich and piece of fruit, I usually had a packaged sweet, like a half moon (if my mom didn’t devour them all), a Joe Louis, or those Vachon chocolate caramel cakes. I’d trade that straight up for one of those cheese and cracker packs—the ones that had the little red plastic stick for smearing the orange spread. Once I even scored some sort of yogurt thing in a tube.

Regardless, until a study is able to link the instances of food poisoning with lukewarm lunch box offerings, no child is safe.


Lunch box lunacy

  1. I have even had sandwiches with mayonnaise or the occasional hard-boiled egg in my brown paper bag in my locker.

    I’ve survived and thrived since then.

  2. Mine was in the fridge overnight….maybe that’s what saved me. LOL

  3. People who react like this to new knowledge should go home and rethink their lives.

    • You need a smiley on that one.  :-)

  4. They make coldcuts right here in Canada that will kill you whether you refrigerate them or not. 

    • But only the poor eat them, so who cares?

  5. From the headline I thought the story was going to be about how many children are given lunches with no nutritional value.

  6. Given the choice between a freshly prepared, but un-refrigerated bag lunch & some refrigerated processed “lunch pak” I’ll take the bag lunch every time.  I ate egg or tuna or salmon salad or left-over chicken, roast beef, meatloaf sandwiches all thru school.  So did my siblings and my parents.  Don’t recall ANY of us ever coming down w/ food poisoning.  What a stupid study.  

  7. All joking aside, the study is technically correct….but badly presented, and really unnecessary. It seems meant just to cause fear.

    All food…everything we touch in fact…has bacteria on it.  Harmless bacteria, even helpful ones sometimes

    ‘Harmful bacteria’ is dicey at any time….cold, warm or in-between. And harmful bacteria is what they’re talking about.

    • Studies like this are typically part of someone’s education. Fawaz Almansour, the study’s author for instance, is a doctoral student at the University of Texas. So it is neither unnecessary nor meant to cause fear but instead meant to earn a degree.

      • Then it shouldn’t be in the public domain, where it does indeed cause fear.

        • And who judges what knowledge should be hidden and what should be made public domain?

          It’s knowledge. Don’t blame the guys who made the study, or even the guys who publicize it. Blame the idiots who get fearful because they don’t look beyond it.

          • This isn’t knowledge.  We already know that something contaminated with Listeria or Salmonella is dangerous….warm or cold.

            But now that this has scared everybody off their lunch…..

          • Interesting. So information that causes people to change their behavior isn’t knowledge.

            I think you may need to look up what the rest of society believes is the meaning of the term.. rather than just making up your own.

  8. Mmmmm…peanut butter and marshmallow sandwiches always tasted best at room temperature, lol!!!

    • Elvis…is that you?

  9. I guess my favorite tuna fish and mayo sandwhiches were a disaster waiting to happen? LOL

    My bet is that since the sandwiches were made in the morning or kept in the fridge until morning, and kept in a cool dark coatroom at the back of the class until our 11:45 lunch probably had something to do with the lack of food poisoning.

    It does generally take more than a couple hours to culture enough bacteria to make your average kid sick after all.

    Was that factored in?

    Another thought: perhaps the fact that this is a problem in the Southern US more than anywhere else is a reflection of their much higher average temperatures? Your average lunch sitting at 20 degrees is obviously going to be safer longer than your average lunch sitting at 30 degrees for more than 2 hours.

    • Phil, you are probably right.   Canadian classrooms were notoriously cold.

  10. I think the issue to remember here is:  Make sure your meat is cooked – there have been Salmonella outbreaks at weddings – mass clearout via ambulance (not pretty).  Keep the lunch refrigerated as long as possible and throw it out after noon hour if you don’t eat it.   The truth is that there are lots of cases of gastritis (diarrhea & nausea/vomitting) caused by improper food handling.  If you get Salmonella, you will remain sick (nauseous/diarrhea/wt loss) for weeks on end.  I think the article is just a heads up.

  11. Funny no one died of an unrefrigerated lunch when I was a kid. NOBODY. Yet this is an issue of concern for today’s hand-wringing parents. What a bunch of tools.