Peanut butter and jelly and … E. coli?

February 25, 2012

Children and Teens, Food

Parents can take steps on a daily basis to keep school lunches safe and bacteria-free without relying on foods laden with unhealthy preservatives.

Peanut butter and jelly and … E. coli?

by Bill Marler — 

With school already in swing, how can parents be assured that they are sending their kids back to the classroom with lunches that consistently earn the grade A+?

Parents can take steps on a daily basis to keep school lunches safe and bacteria-free without relying on foods laden with unhealthy preservatives. The following valuable advice goes beyond “an apple a day keeps the doctor away.”

It would be fantastic if every locker contained a minifridge, but the reality is that lunches prepared at home go unrefrigerated for extended periods of time. This gives bacteria a chance to grow and multiply, thereby increasing the risk of food poisoning.

Here are top tips for keeping bacteria out of the lunchbox:

  • Keep cold food cold. Soft, insulated lunch bags or boxes are the best choices for keeping lunches cool, and are more effective than metal, plastic or paper lunch bags. Place a small, frozen gel pack inside, or freeze a juice box, small bottled water or yogurt and pack it with the food. These will thaw by lunchtime, keeping the lunch cold as well as providing kids with refreshing drinks or snacks.
  • Keep hot food hot. Thermoses are a great way to keep food warm. To ensure items like soups and pastas stay at the right temperature, preheat the thermos by filling it with hot water and let it stand for several minutes before putting food in.
  • Fresh whole or cut fruit and vegetables are delicious, safe and healthy snacks. But make sure to wash fruits and vegetables thoroughly before, and always cut them on a cutting board that is never used for raw meat.
  • Pack lunch foods that have a longer shelf life without the need for refrigeration. These include pitas, granola bars, trail mix, popcorn, baked chips, dried fruit, baked goods (without dairy or egg filling), peanut butter and nuts.
  • Keep all food containers and food items clean. Remind kids to discard leftovers, and make sure lunch boxes are washed out daily with hot soapy water.
  • Most importantly, remind kids to wash their hands before they eat. If washing is not realistic, pack moist towelettes for use before and after lunch. You can also include a travel-sized hand sanitizer, but while these gels kill the bacteria, they do not remove dirt and dead bacteria.
  • Find out where kids store their lunches at school. Hot spots, like near the classroom window or the radiator, can speed up bacteria growth and spoilage. Some schools have refrigerators for students to store their lunches — it is worth inquiring about.


Bill Marler, an attorney, has been a major force in food safety in the United States and abroad. His firm has represented thousands of people who have been sickened by unsafe foods. He also writes and speaks frequently about food safety and foodborne illness. or

Reprinted from AzNetNews, Volume 29, Number 5, Oct/Nov 2010.

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