Lunch boxes and school eating areas are hotspots for bacteria

Canadian moms earn top marks when it comes to good hygiene practices, but a new study by Lysol and the Global Hygiene Council reveals they could do more to safeguard against bacteria hotspots in schools, especially at lunch time.

The 2012 Lysol Back to School Study surveyed 14,000 mothers of five- to 12-year-olds across 14 countries, including 1,000 Canadians. Eighty-eight per cent of Canadian mothers said they teach their child good hygiene practices, such as hand washing after using the washroom and coughing into the sleeve. However, only 53 per cent said their children are made to wash their hands before eating lunch.

"The survey results reveal that parents need to continue to educate their kids about the importance of proper hygiene - particularly before mealtime," said Erica Di Ruggiero, Chair of the Canadian Public Health Association. "Thorough and regular hand washing with soap and warm water, and encouraging kids to not put food directly on their desk or cafeteria table can help to protect children against many illnesses."

Improper storage of packed lunches can also cause foodborne illness. Less than half (43 per cent) of Canadian moms said they refrigerate their child's lunch after preparation. Improper food storage puts kids at an increased risk of coming into contact with bacteria such as E. coli and salmonella, which could cause serious illness and force kids to stay home from school. Considering 35 per cent of Canadian moms said doing well academically is their biggest worry when their child goes back to school, these findings may be especially significant.

Lunches may also become contaminated from improper disinfection habits at home. Only 45 per cent of mothers said they clean and disinfect their child's lunch box daily, increasing the opportunity for bacteria to grow and foodborne illness to occur.

"A lunch box is supposed to keep kids' food safe, but in some cases, the lunch box can do the exact opposite," said Dr. Donald Low, Microbiologist in Chief at Mount Sinai Hospital. "If lunch boxes are not cleaned daily, small spills and crumbs can lead to bacteria growth and spread to ready-to-eat food, potentially causing children to get food poisoning or sick with diarrhea."

Parents should also teach kids about the importance of proper hygiene while eating lunch at school. In a second part of the Lysol Back to School Study, seven elementary schools in the United States were swabbed for bacteria to detect levels of contamination. Results showed that 44 per cent of eating areas were contaminated. In contrast, the level of contamination in the washrooms was surprisingly low (3 per cent), which is likely due to more vigilant cleaning regimes in school bathrooms.

The Global Hygiene Council offers the following tips for guarding against germs at school this fall:

Hand washing

  • Get your child into the habit of washing his/her hands regularly, particularly after visiting the washroom and before eating, both at home and at school. Remind your child to wash his/her hands before opening their lunch box.

Surface disinfection

  • Teach your child to wipe off the desk or cafeteria table with disinfectant wipes before eating lunch. This will decrease the chances of your child ingesting harmful bacteria from commonly-touched surfaces, which are more likely to be contaminated.
  • Be aware that moist environments, like the water fountain, can harbor germs.

Hygienic food preparation and storage

  • Disinfect your child's lunch box every day with disposable disinfectant wipes, and rinse with warm water.
  • Wash raw fruit, salad and vegetables thoroughly before packing them in your child's lunch.
  • Freshly prepare food each day. There is less of an opportunity for germs to grow, the shorter the amount of time that food is stored.
  • Refrigerate your child's lunch box after preparation, and consider using a freezer pack or cool bag to help keep your child's lunch chilled.

Hygiene Council


The opinions expressed here are the views of the writer and do not necessarily reflect the views and opinions of News-Medical.Net.
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