OBJECTIVE:

To measure the temperatures of foods in sack lunches of preschool-aged children before consumption at child care centers.

METHODS:

All parents of 3- to 5-year-old children in full-time child care at 9 central Texas centers were invited to participate in the study. Foods packed by the parents for lunch were individually removed from the sack and immediately measured with noncontact temperature guns 1.5 hours before food was served to the children. Type of food and number of ice packs in the lunch sack were also recorded. Descriptive analyses were conducted by using SPSS 13.0 for Windows.

RESULTS:

Lunches, with at least 1 perishable item in each, were assessed from 235 parent-child dyads. Approximately 39% (n = 276) of the 705 lunches analyzed had no ice packs, 45.1% (n = 318) had 1 ice pack, and 88.2% (n = 622) of lunches were at ambient temperatures. Only 1.6% (n = 22) of perishable items (n = 1361) were in the safe temperature zone. Even with multiple ice packs, the majority of lunch items (>90%) were at unsafe temperatures.

CONCLUSIONS:

These results provide initial data on how frequently sack lunches sent by parents of preschool-aged children are kept at unsafe temperatures. Education of parents and the public must be focused on methods of packing lunches that allow the food to remain in the safe temperature zone to prevent foodborne illness.

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