What's Lurking in Your Child's Lunch Box?
UMES Food Science & Technology researchers lend their expertise to TV report
SALISBURY, Md.- (May 8, 2012) - Every morning Julie Waller of Salisbury makes lunch for her 8-year-old daughter, Megan.
"I have always made fresh food for Megan and she prefers to eat fresh fruit and vegetables," Waller said.
Megan eats a whole-wheat sandwich with fresh tomatoes, lettuce, turkey and bacon.
He mother also packs a few snap peas, a pear and some cookies.
"To stay on the safe side I always put a freezer pack in her lunch box," Waller said.
In a similar scenario, every morning Jenny Palmer packs lunch for her 10-year-old son Marshall.
"For the last six years, every single day he has ate a peanut butter jelly sandwich, some carrots, some kind of fruit or vegetable and a donut," Palmer said.
Marshall's lunch is packed in small containers and stored inside a black lunchbox, without a freezer pack.
"I once used freezer packs in Marshal's lunch and it did not make his drinks or food any colder," Palmer said. "There is nothing in is lunch that needs to be refrigerated, so personally we just don't do it anymore."
Susan Cottongim, a registered dietician, said that studies show time and temperature are important factors for bacterial growth in food. Kids' lunches can sit in school bags for up to five hours from when the food is prepared to when it is eaten at lunch.
"There is no telling what's lurking in that box if it's not cleaned properly each time it is brought home from school," Cottongim said.
Megan and Marshall's lunchboxes were brought to the University of Maryland Eastern Shore's Food Science and Technology Center to be tested. Forty-eight hours later, Dr. Salina Parveen and her assistant, Chanelle White, provided the results.
"We tested for total bacteria and E. coli," Parveen said.
"Luckily there were no harmful bacteria," White added. "We did not find any E. coli. However, we did find that the blue lunch box that had an ice pack had more total bacteria than the black lunch box."
Conventional wisdom would have led one to believe that the lunch box with a freezer pack would have fewer bacteria than the one without. Parveen suggests parents should talk with their children about proper hygiene and wash their lunch boxes every week. She said dirty lunch boxes are an ideal breeding ground for bacteria.
"We recommend that parents clean out their child's lunch boxes regularly with antibacterial cleaner," Parveen said.
After finding out the results of the UMES testing, Waller said, "I will definitely pay attention to how I wash wash things and pack them."
This report originally appeared on the WBOC-TV news website in support of a video segment.