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Study: Sack lunches too warm

LOS ANGELES -- Think that turkey sandwich you packed for your kid's lunch will be at a safe temperature -- safe from food-borne illness -- when it's ready to be eaten? Maybe not -- a study finds that few sack lunches might be kept at proper temperatures until lunch time.

The study, released yesterday in the journal Pediatrics, looked at temperatures of 705 lunches for 3- to 5-year-olds containing at least one perishable item. A temperature gun measured the food an hour and a half before lunchtime.

The results weren't good: Only 1.6 percent of 1,361 perishable items were found to be in a safe temperature range. About 45 percent of the lunches had one ice pack and 39 percent had no ice packs.

The lunches that were tested were from child-care centers in Texas.

Researchers said time, energy and lack of knowledge could be to blame for not knowing how to properly pack and store lunches, and they added that leaving food at unsafe temperatures for long periods of time could cause food-borne illnesses.

Ruth Frechman, a dietitian and spokeswoman for the American Dietetic Association, said food should not be left out for more than two hours, or no more than one hour if it's 90 degrees or hotter. "Make sure the lunch is as cold as it would be if it was stored in a refrigerator," which is about 40 degrees or cooler.

Packing lunches with foods that are less likely to cause food-borne illnesses is another good idea, says dietitian Sarah Krieger, also with the American Dietetic Association. She suggests trying applesauce cups or other fruit (without added sugar), whole grain bread spread with soy nut butter or hummus, or trail mix with whole grain cereal.

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