Current Weather
The Spy FM

Simple Things To Do To Lessen Back-To-School Stomach Bugs

Filed by KOSU News in Health.
August 29, 2011

As kids head back to class the dreaded back-to-school bugs begin to spike. Sniffles and sneezes are inevitable, but there are also stomach bugs.

And parents may never have considered how one part of the morning routine may increase their children’s odds of getting an upset stomach. It’s the packing of lunch with just typical foods.

Mike and Maya Neehouse say they normally pack their lunches in insulated lunch bags — the ones with Velcro at the top. This makes it easy to carry to school or work. But what happens when they get there? The food sits for hours in an office cubicle or a classroom cubby with no refrigeration — and that can be a problem.

“For chilled foods, your turkey sandwich or cut vegetables, you want that to be at 40 degrees or below,” says Sara Sweitzer a researcher at the University of Texas at Austin.

She was curious to know just how quickly packed lunches warmed to unsafe temperatures. So she and her colleagues used a temperature gun to test the lunches of 235 children at a Texas daycare.

“We found that over 97 percent of the perishable foods were within the unsafe temperature zone,” Sweitzer says.

What surprised her was that they “saw quite a few ice packs and so you’re just mentally thinking oh, the food must be chilled.”

Now it takes a few hours at these warmer temperatures for bacteria to multiply enough to make us sick. So it’s important to point out that none of the kids in this study got sick that day. But it’s a reality check on how quickly food can go bad.

So if you want to keep bagged lunches safe, here are three things to try:

1). Put your insulated lunch bags in the freezer overnight so that they’re starting out much cooler in the morning.

2). When using ice packs, use two of them and bookend them on either side of the perishable foods.

3). Wash hands and counters before making lunches. This is probably the most important tip.

Sweitzer says this is basic but people often forget it — especially if they’re rushing around in the morning.

“They were just busy combing their hair or taking care of something else, and then if you go make a sandwich, you’ve just transferred germs into that food,” Sweitzer adds.

Keeping your hands clean may seem like a small matter, but there have actually been dozens of studies over the last 15 years aimed at improving hand hygiene and cutting infection rates — mostly in hospitals.

Don Goldmann of Harvard Medical School says parents and schools could learn a lot from this. For instance, just telling medical staff to clean their hands doesn’t work so well. What really makes a difference is having dispensers of hand sanitizer everywhere — from patient rooms to hallways and nurses stations.

“It’s best done if you follow what a nurse or doctor actually does and put the alcohol where they can’t miss it,” Goldmann says.

Nurses sometime need to sanitize their hands up to 40 times in an hour, and clearly that’s entirely too much for school kids. But Goldmann says children could be taught when contamination is most likely, and encouraged to put a splash of sanitizer on their hands at these moments. After going to the bathroom is an obvious one.

“If you’re vigilant and on top of your game,” Goldmann says, “you’ll do it every time you’re about to touch somebody or something else.”

A few years ago Goldmann and his colleagues tested how effective hand sanitizers were in reducing absenteeism in third, fourth and fifth grade classrooms. They found that when bottles of sanitizer — and wipes — were kept around, and students were cued to use them, they ended up missing significantly fewer days due to stomach bugs.

So go ahead and put those little bottles of sanitizer in your kids’ backpacks, but recognize their limitations.

The same study also found sanitizing hands does not do much to prevent sniffling and sneezing. In fact, it was not effective at all in reducing absences due to the common cold. [Copyright 2011 National Public Radio]

Leave a Reply

9AM to 10AM The Takeaway

The Takeaway

A fresh alternative in morning news, "The Takeaway" provides a breadth and depth of world, national and regional news coverage that is unprecedented in public media.

Listen Live Now!

10AM to 11PM On Point

On Point

On Point unites distinct and provocative voices with passionate discussion as it confronts the stories that are at the center of what is important in the world today. Leaving no perspective unchallenged, On Point digs past the surface and into the core of a subject, exposing each of its real world implications.

View the program guide!

11AM to 12PM The Story

The Story

The Story with Dick Gordon brings the news home through first-person accounts. The live weekday program is passionate, personal, immediate and relevant to listeners, focusing on the news where it changes our lives, causes us to stop and rethink, inspires us.

View the program guide!

Upcoming Events in your area (Submit your event today!)

Streaming audio and podcasts

Stream KOSU on your smartphone

Phone Streaming

SmartPhone listening options on this page are intended for many iPhones, Blackberries, etc. with low-cost software applications available to listen to our full-time web streams, both News on KOSU-1 and Classical on KOSU-2.

Learn more about our complete range of streaming services

We're perfecting the patient experience - Stillwater Medical Center