For anyone who remembers the aroma of a grade-school classroom on a hot day, this will come as no surprise: Fawaz Almansour, a doctoral candidate in the Department of Nutritional Sciences at the University of Texas-Austin, reports that more than 90 percent of the lunches carried by preschoolers had reached unsafe temperatures long before lunchtime.

Even if the food is packed in an insulated container, even if it’s packed with those little blue icy-things, “more than 90 percent of perishable items were at an unacceptable temperature — according to USDA guidelines — an hour and a half before lunch,” Almansour and his colleagues report at the online site of the journal Pediatrics.

The researchers did field studies on the lunches of 700 preschoolers at nine Texas child care centers — and no, they didn’t touch the food. They used non-contact temperature guns. Fewer than 2 percent of lunches with perishable items were found to be at safe temperatures.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture recommends storage at less than 40 degrees Fahrenheit; nothing should be at room temperature for more than two hours.

And here’s the scariest part: Refrigerators didn’t help much. Insulated containers actually insulate the food from the refrigerator.

In our experience, some moms solved this dilemma with canned Vienna sausages, but we wouldn’t recommend that. Put the lunch in a sack. Ask the teacher to put the sack in the fridge. On the off chance your preschooler actually eats his lunch, he should be OK.

Editorial by the St. Louis Post-Dispatch distributed by McClatchy-Tribune Information Services.


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