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Are germs lurking in your child’s lunchbox?

Nadine Bells
Shine On
August 31, 2012

It's time to dust off that lunchbox and get packing with school back in session next week.

A new study suggests that even the healthiest of homemade lunches need safeguarding "against bacteria hotspots in schools."

The 2012 Lysol Back to School Study surveyed 14,000 mothers of five- to 12-year-olds across 14 countries, including 1,000 Canadians. While 88 per cent of Canadian mothers insist they teach their children good hygiene practices such as hand-washing after using the washroom, only 53 per cent admitted to making their kids wash their hands before eating lunch.

Most parents don't encourage their kids to wipe down desk or table surfaces before eating lunch at school, either.

The survey, commissioned by Lysol and the Global Hygiene Council, also identified numerous food-storage concerns. Only 43 per cent of Canadian moms refrigerate their child's lunch following its preparation, putting kids at risk of coming into contact with bacteria like E. coli and salmonella. Similarly, just 45 per cent of moms clean and disinfect their child's lunchbox daily.

"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," Dr. Donald Low, Microbiologist in Chief at Mount Sinai Hospital tells CTV News.

Bacteria can come from a variety of food sources, including processed meats and unwashed fruits and vegetables. When the bacteria rubs against the side of a lunchbox or launch bag, it multiplies.

[See also: Sandwich-free school lunch ideas]

"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 lunchboxes themselves can be hazardous to yours kids' health, another study suggests, with popular lunchboxes containing high levels of potentially toxic phthalates, a class of chemical used to soften vinyl.

The Detroit Free Press offers some tips on how to buy the best lunchbox for your child, and emphasizes that there are plenty of non-plastic options for parents concerned about phthalates.

The Global Hygiene Council provides simple tips for packing safe-to-eat back-to-school lunches:

  • Encourage the habit of washing hands prior to eating.
  • Pack disinfectant wipes in your child's lunchbox so he/she can wipe off the desk or table before eating lunch.
  • Disinfect your child's lunchbox daily.
  • Wash raw fruit and vegetables thoroughly before packing them.
  • Freshly prepare food each day.
  • Refrigerate the lunchbox after preparation. If possible, use a freezer pack to keep the lunch chilled. (Or use a multitasking frozen juice box.)

Rubbermaid also lists food-safety tips for packing a non-contaminated lunch.

Moms, how do you keep your kids' lunch boxes germ-free?

Looking for new homemade lunch ideas? Here are 15 ways to switch up those back-to-school lunches.

Learn how to make egg salad daisy sandwiches the kids will love in the video below.

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