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Health & Parenting

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Germs in the Backpack and Lunchbox

Bacteria easily collect in backpacks and school lunchboxes. Try these 10 tips to keep them, and your child, germ-free.


Cut up sandwiches and snacks.
Sharing is important and often stressed to children, but sharing food is another story -- especially during cold and flu season. "Don't give people a bite of your apple. If your child likes to share and trade, cut fruit and sandwiches in pieces to make sharing easier and safer," says Schachter.

Pack a healthy lunch.
While there is not a direct correlation between nutrients and immunity, "children who eat poorly and don't take in enough calories have weaker immune systems and are more likely to pick up a cold or flu," Schachter says. Make sure your child's lunch is healthful: Pack fruit, veggie sticks, and protein such as turkey sandwiches or peanut butter and jelly. Avoid filling the lunchbox with empty calories from chips, sweets, crackers, or processed lunchmeats loaded with fat.

Wipe down the eating area.
"If your child eats lunch at his or her desk, wipe it down because desks tend to get pretty germy," says Horowitz. "Pack wipes in his her backpack or lunch box so this can be done as easily as possible."

Hang backpacks in the restroom.
Bathroom floors have invisible fecal matter on them, so teach your children to hang their backpacks on the hook, says Gerba. The same advice goes for purses. "The bottoms of women's purses are pretty bad," Gerba says. "About 25% have fecal bacteria because women put it down on the toilet floor in restrooms."

Pack functional tissues.
The latest trend in tissues is virucidal tissues," says Schachter. "These tissues prevent the spread of viruses around the house because it kills them when you blow your nose." Encourage you child to cover his nose or mouth when sneezing or coughing and after using a tissue, throw it away!

Prepare lunch on clean, disinfected surfaces.
Cracks and crevices in your cutting board provide plenty of space for bacteria to grow. "The average cutting board has about 200% more fecal bacteria than the average toilet seat," Gerba says. "People don't disinfect cutting boards" and they should. "Don't cut up chicken and then salad on the same cutting board without disinfecting it," he stresses. Better yet, "use separate ones for raw meat and making salads."

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Reviewed on October 18, 2007

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