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How To Make Sure Your School Lunches Stay Cold Without An Icepack

Tasting Table logo: MainLogoTasting Table 8/5/2022 Katherine Beck
A packed school lunch © inewsfoto/Shutterstock A packed school lunch

Keeping a packed school lunch cold when it contains perishable items like yogurt and cheese is a concern for every parent. But so is not losing ice packs every day when the young student simply empties their lunch bag containing wrappers and empty plastic baggies into the garbage can.

Food poisoning can be a real risk when it comes to children's school lunches, and according to the NSW Food Authority, food issues are a bigger hazard for toddlers and young children because their immune systems aren't as developed as an older child's or an adult's. Also take into consideration that often a child's lunch could be sitting in a locker for hours between it being packed and eaten, and you have a potential recipe for disaster. According to Healthy Kids Association, there are four factors that lead to bacteria growing in food: time, temperature, moisture, and the type of food. 

The USDA says that bad bacteria will multiply rapidly in warm conditions, which is considered 40 degrees Fahrenheit to 140 degrees Fahrenheit. Foods commonly packed in school lunches that must be kept cold at all times to stay safe and edible include lunch meat, cheese, and cut fruit.

Alternatives To Ice Packs

Lunch bag packed with a bottle of water © Pixel-Shot/Shutterstock Lunch bag packed with a bottle of water

A simple way to keep your child's lunch cold can be utilizing an item that has already been packed to be consumed -- such as a juice box or a bottle of water. Harvard Health says to freeze it and then put it in the lunch bag to keep the food items cold. Then, when it's time for lunch, the beverage should be melted and can be consumed by the student. 

Science also proves that a frozen drink is the preferred way to go to keep a lunch cold. The NSW Food Authority did a study of school lunches. One lunch had no item to keep the lunch cold, while another had a frozen ice pack, and the third lunch had a frozen drink. After the lunches were left in a shady location for five hours, the lunch with the frozen beverage had the lowest amount of bacteria (three times its starting point), while the lunch box with the ice pack had 10 times the amount of bacteria from when it was packed, and the lunchbox with no frozen item had 14 times the original amount of bacteria. 

Another tip from the USDA to keep the packed lunch cold and safe to eat is to put the frozen item on top of the perishable food items for additional guarantee that they will stay cold.

Read this next: Giada De Laurentiis' Best Cooking Tips For Home Chefs

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