Are the lunches you send to school making your kid sick?

Sorenne has been going to full-time daycare – she doesn’t like that term so we call it school – since arriving in Australia. At 2-and-a-half years old, we knew she was getting bored with us, and needed to be hanging out with other kids.

The kids all have to wear sunhats, and high-powered sunscreen is applied liberally, not the mild stuff used in North America.

Amy’s been making a lunch every day, and I’m starting to help out. Today is was leftover spaghetti, cheese, a yoghurt (anything pre-packaged is wildly expensive, with those little yoghurts going for about $1.20 each) and apple slices. Everything is labeled Sorenne, and it goes into the fridge as soon as we arrive. Seems like a good system.

But after dealing with the tyranny and boredom of school lunches for about 12 years with the four Canadian daughters, I’m well aware of the challenges: most schools don’t have fridges for kids to use. Standard advice is to pack food with ice packs or use cooler bags, but that may not be enough.

Researchers at the University of Texas, Austin, measured the temperatures of food in bag lunches 90 minutes before children at air-conditioned Texas child-care centers were scheduled to eat them.

Ninety percent of the lunches were in insulated bags. Even so, the results were disgusting.

Less than 2 percent of the perishable items were in what the researchers deemed a safe temperature zone: less than 39.2 degrees or more than 140 degrees. Only 14 of 618 items — they focused on meats, dairy products and vegetables — in lunches with one ice pack were a safe temperature. Multiple ice packs weren’t much better: Just 5 of 61 items were safe.

Unsafe temperatures allow bacteria to grow, increasing the odds that kids will get a nasty foodborne illness, Fawaz Almansour, lead author of the new study, said.

The study, published Monday in Pediatrics, did not look at how many kids actually got sick. The important thing, Almansour said, is that their lunches put them at risk for a long list of bugs. Children younger than four are especially susceptible to foodborne illnesses.

The authors wrote, “These results indicate an urgent need for parents and childcare personnel to be educated in safe food practices.”

As usual, there were no recommendations for how this education was to magically happen.