School lunches aren’t what they used to be. If you go by the ones you see on Pinterest, they look like works of art. If you listen to what other mums are boxing up, it sounds like they’re trying out for MasterChef.
Those parents who send their kids off with a Vegemite sandwich and a banana probably don’t go around bragging about it. But that kind of old-school school lunch does have one advantage: it’s not likely to give your kid food poisoning.
A food safety expert, who spoke to The Motherish but asked to remain anonymous, said she was concerned about some of the food being packed into school lunchboxes.
“Creativity is great, if you have the time for it, which I personally don’t,” the expert explains. “But food safety is another consideration, which is probably not commonly thought through.”
"High-risk" foods need to be kept cold to be safe. These foods include:
Leftovers, such as cooked chicken
Certain cut-up fruits, such as rockmelon
Berries, especially raspberries
Packing these foods in an insulated lunchbox isn't enough. There needs to be at least one ice pack in the lunchbox, preferably two. The food needs to be kept cold, right up until it's time to eat. Depending on the school, and where the bags are kept, that can be difficult. There's also the issue of kids going to before-school care, and lunches remaining in bags for longer.
The expert says she wouldn't pack "high-risk" foods for her kids for lunch on summer days. However, she admits she's more cautious than most people, because of what she knows.
"Variety is good, but not when it's unrefrigerated," she says.
Safer foods include canned tuna, whole fruit such as apples and pears, cherry tomatoes and hard cheese.
Food poisoning is surprisingly common in Australia. According to the NSW Food Authority, an estimated 4.1 million Australians suffer from food poisoning every year. Symptoms can take anywhere from a few hours to a few days to appear, and can include vomiting, diarrhoea and fever.
What you might assume is a tummy bug your child has picked up from someone in their class could be food poisoning.
"It's totally possible," the expert says, "My kids, touch wood, are very, very rarely sick. Some of that could be strong immune systems. Some of that could be just because I’m really cautious."
Do you think about food safety when you pack your kids' lunches?