Most children take lunch from home to school every day. My own packed lunch usually contained a turkey sandwich, juice box, pretzels, and a cheery note from mom. That's why I was surprised to hear that when the Good Housekeeping Research Institute (GHRI) tested lunchboxes last August, they found that packing a lunch with perishable items like cold cuts could pose a safety risk. The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) says that food can be unrefrigerated (above 40°) for two hours and still be okay to eat. None of the lunch boxes tested at GHRI was able to keep a typical lunch cold for longer than two hours, even with two small freezer packs tucked in. While this might not be problematic for kids who eat within four hours of getting on the bus, those who leave the house at 7 could be eating lunch at noon or even one o'clock, which is 5 or 6 hours later. Turns out filling a lunchbox with items that don't require refrigeration is the best option for eating a safe lunch. GHRI has some good advice on what to pack.
However, here in the Kitchen Appliances & Technology Lab we've discovered three new lunch boxes that give extra protection, just in time for the new school year.
Related: The Truth About Cold Serving Dishes
Lands' End Madbox Lunch BoxDesigned by a team of kids, Lands' End Madbox Lunch Box ($35) offers a cool innovation that'll keep your child's sandwich cold and her snacks like crackers or chips at room temperature. The Madbox comes with a flexible ice pack that's cold on one side, room temperature on the other. As the pack's flexible, it can be shaped to fit around foods and attaches to the Velcro-lined sides of the lunch box. Samantha Cassetty, GHRI's Nutrition Director, uses the Madbox to pack lunch for her 8-year-old son, who loves forming compartments around his food and helps her get his lunch ready in the morning. In our tests, we found that it keeps food cold for 2 hours and 6 minutes--not a lot longer than others we've reviewed but enough to give you an extra margin of safety, particularly if your child's lunch period is within four hour of leaving the house. It comes in 6 different girl- and boy-friendly patterns.
Contain This! Perfect Sandwich ($12.99) is simple and easy to use. It's a hard plastic sandwich-sized container that has a removable ice pack that fits in the bottom. Just freeze the pack ahead of time and place it in its compartment and pack your sandwich on top. This is a great gadget for an older child or adult who opts for just a sandwich rather than a complete packed lunch. Your sandwich will remain cool for just under an hour and a half so with it you're not buying time but you are protecting a sandwich from getting squished. On the down side, the container is shaped like a traditional slice of sandwich bread, meaning a pita, sub, or other roll won't fit.
Related: Top Food Storage Containers
PackIt Personal CoolerIt gets even simpler when you use the PackIt Personal Cooler ($19.95). You just chuck the entire lunchbox in the freezer at least 12 hours ahead of time. While Pack-It promises to keep food cool for up to ten hours, we found it kept lunch below 40° for a full three hours, enough to impress GHRI as that's way longer than any others they've ever tested. If you're worried about it taking up too much of your valuable freezer space, rest easy--it folds flat for storage.
Be sure to see more back-to-school tricks, tips, and tactics from Good Housekeeping.
What are your questions about food safety? Let me know in the comments!
- by GHRI Intern Dawn Rzeznikiewica, senior, Syracuse University
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