Lunch box lunacy

Should we really be worried kids’ lunches aren’t refrigerated?

Newsflash: the contents of kids’ lunch pails are potentially poisonous! Or at least that’s what a study released last Monday in the journal Pediatrics (and reported on by Reuters, the Toronto Star and our own website) suggests. Apparently, 90 per cent of the perishable contents in more than 700 preschoolers’ packed lunches weren’t cold enough and could therefore leading to food poisoning on account of harmful bacteria multiplying. One of the doctoral students who worked on the study told Reuters that, “[It’s] an eye opener more than anything else.  It shows there is a problem.”

Really? Am I the only one that made it through primary, elementary and high school without ever having refrigerated my packed lunch? It wasn’t even an option. I called my mom last night to make sure I was remembering things correctly:

Me: Did it ever cross your mind that the lunches you packed me when I was a kid weren’t being refrigerated at school?

Mom: What’s going on?

Me: Well, there was this report released last Monday and—

Mom: Oh I saw that on the news and thought it was some sort of joke report.

Me: What do you mean, a joke?

Mom: You know how they do a joke news report on April Fool’s Day or track Santa on Christmas Eve? I thought it was one of those things. I mean, who the hell ever died of a packed lunch?

Me:  Did you ever think about putting in an ice pack in my lunch?

Mom: Of course not!

Me: Well, this report said that nearly half of the tested lunches had ice packs in them and 12 per cent were kept in refrigerators and they still came out in the red zone.

Mom: When I was a schoolgirl I took a lunch every day in a little square metal box.  I had egg salad sandwiches, or Prem and mustard sandwiches—

Me: What in the hell is Prem?

Mom: It’s like Spam. Or we had salmon sandwiches—all perishable stuff. I never once got sick. Do you remember the time that the health nurse was asking kids dietary questions and you had just been home sick the day before with a cold and so I made you Lipton’s chicken noodle soup for lunch and then you insisted on having it for dinner and then you wanted what was left over for breakfast the next day? When the nurse asked you what you’d had for your last three meals, you answered chicken noodle soup for all three. I was devastated.

Me: I don’t remember that but—

Mom: Or the time you told your grade one class for show and tell that I’d eaten an entire box of vanilla half moons?

I don’t recall that one either. But I do know that I was the go-to kid for lunch box trades: along with my bologna sandwich and piece of fruit, I usually had a packaged sweet, like a half moon (if my mom didn’t devour them all), a Joe Louis, or those Vachon chocolate caramel cakes. I’d trade that straight up for one of those cheese and cracker packs—the ones that had the little red plastic stick for smearing the orange spread. Once I even scored some sort of yogurt thing in a tube.

Regardless, until a study is able to link the instances of food poisoning with lukewarm lunch box offerings, no child is safe.

Looking for more?

Get the Best of Maclean's sent straight to your inbox. Sign up for news, commentary and analysis.