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Science notes / Microbiology, psychology

Study finds sack lunches aren't kept cold enough

Think that turkey sandwich you packed for your kid's lunch will be at a safe temperature -- free from food-borne illness -- when he sits down to eat it? Maybe not. A study finds that few sack lunches are kept at proper temperatures until lunch time.

The study, released in the journal Pediatrics, looked at temperatures of 705 lunches containing at least one perishable item belonging to 3- to 5-year-olds. Food was removed from containers and temperatures were measured by a temperature gun about an hour and a half before the lunches were served.

What researchers found wasn't good: Only 1.6 percent of 1,361 perishable items were found to be in a safe temperature range. Broken down, 97.4 percent of meats, 99 percent of dairy items and 95.8 percent of vegetables weren't at an acceptable temperature.

About 45 percent of the lunches had one ice pack and about 39 percent had no ice packs. Even having an ice pack didn't guarantee the food would be well chilled. Among 618 perishable items that contained one pack, only 14 of them were at an acceptable temperature range.

Most lunches -- about 91 percent -- were packed in thermally insulated plastic bags.

So what's a parent to do? Putting lunches in well-insulated lunch bags with cold packs surrounding perishable foods is a good place to start. Packing lunches with foods that are less likely to cause food-borne illnesses, such as applesauce cups or trail mix, is another good idea.

-- Los Angeles Times

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Crew simulating flight to Mars is exhausted

Six men who have been isolated together since June 2010 in a simulated mission to Mars are reaching their mental limits, with only two months left to go in the experiment, researchers said last week. The crew of three Russians, one Italian, a Chinese national and a Frenchman are in a simulator trying to simulate 520 days in space, the length of time scientists estimate would be needed for a round trip to the red planet.

The men are "mentally drained" after their experience in a container in Moscow, project manager Yevgeni Dyomin told the Interfax news agency.

"The impatience is huge," Peter Graef of DLR, the German space agency, told the German Press Agency dpa. "The men want to finally see their families and the sun again."

But Dyomin said the men are determined to push through until the project ends in November. The men's activities are documented round the clock by cameras to see whether they manage to complete the 105 research assignments with which they have been tasked.

Watchers are keeping an ever-closer eye on the men now as they reach their exhaustion points. "Most experiments have been completed and the level of work has dipped off, which means the stay in a bare environment is getting even more monotonous," said Graef.

-- McClatchy Newspapers