Research commissioned by the Center for Environmental Health in Oakland, California showed that the lining in some kids' lunch boxes contained high levels of lead. Lead can harm children even in minute amounts because it hinders brain development and can cause a variety of behavior and other developmental disorders. Children may be exposed to the lead in lunch boxes if they eat food that's touched the box directly or if they handle the boxes and then put their hands in their mouths.
Other lunch boxes may be made from PVC plastic. Says the National Institutes of Health, "Because of PVC’s heavy chlorine content, dioxins are released during the manufacturing, burning, or landfilling of PVC. Exposure to dioxins can cause reproductive, developmental, and other health problems, and at least one dioxin is classified as a carcinogen. Dioxins, phthalates, and BPA are suspected to be endocrine disruptors, which are chemicals that may interfere with the production or activity of hormones in the human endocrine system. Exposure to PVC dust may cause asthma and affect the lungs." In other words, avoid PVC!
Because you can't tell by appearance whether a vinyl lunch box may contain lead, CEH advises parents to avoid buying vinyl lunch boxes altogether. You can test any vinyl lunch boxes you already own using a hand-held lead testing kit. If your hardware store doesn't carry one, you can find one from LeadCheck. There is no independent way you can determine whether the plastic lunch box you buy also contains PVC. My recommendation is that if you have a vinyl lunch box – one that seems to be made from soft, flexible plastic – you should probably throw it away.
SAFER LUNCH BOX OPTIONS
Pack your kids' lunch in a stainless steel box, cloth bag, or bag that has been independently tested to prove that it is lead- and PVC-free. Many hardware stores now carry cloth and stainless steel options. Here's what we've found (and that we sell for your convenience in our Amazon store):
Kids Konserve Insulated Lunch Sack – This reusable lunch sack (left) is made with no BPA, lead-free insulation. An inside pocket holds an ice pack. When kids are finished with it, they can roll it down and tuck it away in their backpack.
Blue Avocado Insulated Lunch Tote - This tote features a PVC insulated liner, an exterior holster for housing a water bottle, and an over-the-shoulder messenger style adjustable strap. The bag can be folded into an attached pouch when kids are done with it. The exterior fabric is constructed from 50% recycled polyester made from plastic bottles and recycled yarn.
Mimi the Sardine Organic Cotton Lunch Bag -This organic cotton bag is coated on both sides with a PVC-free, water-based acrylic that is water- and stain-resistant. It can be wiped clean, or throw it in the machine (wash in cool or warm water, not hot), and tumble dry on low or air dry.
To-Go Ware Stainless Steel Food Kit - In addition to 3 food containers, this set also comes with bamboo utensils and a cotton carry bag made from recycled cotton.
Having a hard time getting your kids to remember to bring their lunch box home? Put a deposit on it! Every time the kids bring their box home, give them a dime or a quarter to put in their bank. At the end of the week, let them redeem the money for a special treat or to make a donation to a cause they care about.