What's lurking in your child's lunch box?
Your child's lunch box can be an all you can eat bacteria buffet. Video by kgun9.comvideo
Reporter: Craig Smith
TUCSON (KGUN9-TV) - Hmm. What's on the menu when you pack your child's lunch? Tuna fish? Peanut Butter and jelly? How about a little e-coli, salmonella or listeria?
Your child's lunch box can be an all you can eat bacteria buffet.
Kids want to see something fun and tasty when they dig into lunch. Parents want to see something nutritious kids will still want to eat. But kids and parents would need a microscope to see something else that's often riding along in that lunchbox: bacteria.
"....like stapholococcus, which can cause food poisoning, listeria, and in one study they found about 15 percent of children's lunchboxes had fecal matter in it, fecal bacteria in it."
That icky info is from Doctor Charles Gerba, who some people call him Doctor Germ. He's a University of Arizona professor who's made a career of finding things that will make you sick, so you have a better chance to stay healthy.
KGUN9 reporter Craig Smith asked Dr. Gerba: "People can go on for years and say, you know, I've never had a problem I can trace directly back to that lunch box. Is it not that big a problem or are they just being lucky?"
Dr. Gerba: "They're really just being lucky. You have to have the wrong series of events. You have to remember, you're always gambling with germs. The whole idea about hygiene is to keep the odds in your favor and not in the germs' favor."
La Paloma Academy on Golf Links helped us with a little experiment.
Take two tables of Kindergartners. Find some using lunchboxes and wipe down those boxes with special sponges for collecting bacteria.
Back at Doctor Gerba's lab they let the bacteria grow a few days.
Here's what they found: Bacteria counts from 230 to about 18 hundred.
The tests show yellow when they find coliform bacteria. One sample in particular was a strong number one, when it comes to number two.
Looking at the results, Dr. Gerba says, "This is a person not to share lunch, with, obviously."
And his advice for that child's parent? "Well, definitely pack extra toilet paper in this lunch box."
Craig Smith asked: "So what advice would you have for the parent of this child and what should the parent be saying to that child?"
Dr. Gerba: "The parent should be saying to the child, make sure you wash your hands before you eat a meal and also to wipe and clean out the lunchboxes on a regular basis. My guess is what happened is it's not being cleaned on a regular basis. I think the child should be the one taking responsibility on a regular basis for doing that because then they can learn good hygiene."
La Paloma Academy helped us reach the moms who packed two of those lunchboxes.
Maizie's lunch box had one of the lowest bacteria counts--260--with none of the coliform bacteria that can come from fecal matter.
Craig Smith asked Maizie's mom Brittani Selmer: "When you do clean it, what do you use? Do you use any disinfectant?"
"Lysol wipes," she says.
Smith: "They seem to be doing okay."
Brittani Selmer turned to Maizie and said, "Yay! Yay!"
Remember the strong positive for coliform bacteria? We did not get a chance to talk to that parent. But the lunch kit with the strong hit for coliform was not the top for total bacteria.
Craig Smith broke the news to Delisa Alday about her son Ambrose's lunch box.
"Ambrose had the highest bacteria count."
Delisa Alday: "He did?! Oh my gosh!" She laughed.
Smith: "About 18 hundred, roughly 18 hundred."
Delisa Alday: "No! Are you sure that's the right lunchbox?"
Smith: :I'm pretty sure, yeah."
Delisa Alday: "My kids, my students will tell you I am a germ freak. I have my Clorox wipes and my sanitizer and everything."
But here's the interesting thing. Ambrose was clean when it comes to that extra nasty, fecal coliform bacteria. He loves his hand sanitizer, so something else is making the bacteria bloom.
His mom, has a theory: "The thing about it, he doesn't throw his lunch away at lunch time. He like, leaves all the wrappers and everything in there so it'll be like a Go-Gurt wrapper. He saves his seeds from his cucumbers and funny things in there. So I think that, cleaning it out, reminding him to clean it out right away, not to put the trash back in there."
Doctor Gerba says it's not as if what we found will automatically make your child sick, but you want to keep fighting those germs with soap and anti bacterials and teach kids what they need to do to keep clean.