Lunch items to avoid during hot weather

September 6, 2011 9:59:10 AM PDT
A new shocking report tells parents that almost everything they've been packing in their children's school lunches is wrong, so we talked with experts and found out what's safe to put in your child's lunch bag.

UT researchers say we're growing bacteria in our kids' lunches! What are we doing wrong? It's not parents, it's the heat.

"If the temperature outside is greater than 90 degrees, the clock starts ticking; you've got an hour at room temperature where that food is safe," Texas Children's Hospital's Roberta Anding said.

The UT study found less than two percent of school lunches were still cool by lunchtime. Even gel packs are melting!

"You may want to ask your son or daughter, 'What did your gel pack look like in your lunch when you opened it? Was it mushy or was it hard?'" Anding said. "Once that gel pack melts, you have an hour until it needs to be discarded."

Anding says some of the times kids suffer nausea or diarrhea may not have been because of a stomach virus going around, but lunchbox bacteria. And food illnesses hit little kids the hardest.

But you can make some easy changes. Take milk.

"Go to one that's in a box," Anding said, adding parents should avoid bottled milk.

But skip the cheese.

"You can't put cheese in. Even if it's packed individually where you're not touching it, it's not gonna stay safe," Anding said.

Skip the lunch meat too.

"Meat is perishable, so it's not gonna remain safe so a turkey sandwich would need to go. So now you think, well I can't have milk, I can't have cheese, I can't have dairy, I can't have yogurt. What can I have?" Anding said.

Safer lunch items include peanut butter and jelly or any other protein that's not perishable, veggies like carrots and fruit like strawberries.

Take your cue from the grocery store. If it's on the shelf, it's OK. If it's in the fridge, just say no, or at least until the heat breaks.

The CDC says perishable foods must be kept at a temperature below 40 degrees, or two hours later, they are not safe to eat.

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