How well do lunch boxes keep your food safe? The Problem Solvers test variety of lunch box options

Packing lunches can be a cheaper and healthier option, but only if those lunch boxes keep your food fresh.

Most kids carry their lunches in their backpacks or cram them in their locker until lunchtime, which can be hours.

"As a younger population, they are one of the groups considered higher at risk for illness," said Debbie Watts with the Tulsa Health Department Food Protection Services.

Watts says cold food should be kept at 41-degrees or colder, and hot food should be no lower than 135-degrees.

If those temperatures step outside that "safe zone," bacteria starts to grow.

"There's always that chance that someone could get sick from it," Watts said.

And this doesn't just affect one student. Kids often share their food, so they can spread any food contamination to others.

So the Problem Solvers put lunch boxes to the test. For our study we used four different lunch box options:

  • The brown paper bag
  • One soft insulated lunch pail
  • A metal lunch box
  • And a thermos

For our cold food, we packed cheese and ham sandwiches, and soup for our hot food. We also threw in a juice pack.

Then we waited for four hours.

To our surprise, all of the food was around the same temperature.

The sandwiches were about 65-degrees, well above the 41-degree limit.

As for the soup, none of the temperatures even reached the high 70s.

So what did we do wrong?

First, we learned that you need to keep your hot food and your cold food separate. 

Even if you have an insulated lunch box, use an ice pack to chill your cold food.

With hot food, a metal thermos conducts heat the best. Plastic will work, but you might need to re-heat your food.

And last: Prepare your food the night before so it can chill in the fridge overnight.

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