Germs could be lurking in kids’ lunch boxes
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Published Tuesday, August 28, 2012 10:20AM EDT
Parents often put a lot of thought into packing healthy foods into their children’s lunch boxes, but it seems many are not taking simple steps to protect against bacteria.
A recent Global Hygiene Council survey of 1,000 Canadian mothers found that only 45 per cent reported they cleaned and disinfected their child's lunch box or insulated lunch bag every day.
We all know to wash out the plastic containers used to hold our food, but it seems many forget to turn our attention to the lunch box. But skipping this simple step could put children at risk of coming into contact with dangerous bacteria, says Dr. Donald Low, an infectious diseases specialist at Toronto’s Mount Sinai Hospital.
“Washing out the lunch pail is such a simple thing to do. And probably the reason people don’t do it is they don’t recognize that there is a potential risk of transmission of bacteria that can make our kids sick,” Low says.
Bacteria in lunch bags can come from many sources, including processed sandwich meats, and even fresh fruits and vegetables. When those bacteria rub onto the inside of a lunch box or lunch bag, they can multiply to dangerous levels.
“The lunch box gives those bacteria a place to grow as they sit in lockers, waiting to come home,” says Low. “But simple soap and water can do the trick to clean them out.”
The Global Hygiene Council survey also found that most parents don’t encourage their kids to wipe down their desks or tables before eating lunch at school. But in fact those surfaces can be crawling with germs.
A recent study conducted by Lysol tested seven elementary schools in the United Statesfor bacterial contamination. They found that 44 per cent of eating areas were contaminated with pathogens. The level of contamination in the washrooms on the other hand was surprisingly low – just 3 per cent on average, probably because of more vigilant cleaning in the bathrooms.
That’s why Low and other experts recommend that parents teach their children to wipe down their desks or cafeteria tables before eating. Parents could try sending a pack of disinfecting wipes in their kids’ backpacks, but Low says even a wet paper towel will do the trick.
“Water won’t disinfect but it’s better than nothing. Any attempt to reduce the physical things that are there on the eating surface, whether or not it’s contaminated with bacteria, is a good thing,” he says.
For those parents who say all this fussing over sanitizing is a little much, and that no one in their family has ever gotten sick from a homemade lunch, Low asks: Are they sure about that?
“When we get a bout of upset stomach and diarrhea, we get through it, we don’t report it and we don’t make the connection about where it might have come from. But it might have occurred in your family but you haven’t connected the dots to the possible source,” he says.
While children and adults can develop some immunity to some foodborne illnesses over time, that’s “the tough way to do it,” says Low.
“It’s better to just avoid those illnesses and not get them at all. There are illnesses we don’t really need to experience in order to educate our kids’ immune systems. We are already exposed to an onslaught of enough bacteria and viruses as it is.”