Can I Eat This, Lunch Edition
February 8, 2019 3:18 PM   Subscribe

So at work, during colder months, not in summer, I like to eat my lunches outside. The fridges in breakrooms gross me out. So I keep my lunches, which are always meatless, and are always sandwiches, wrapped in frozen ice packs in my trunk. Would you eat it?

Never leftovers. Nothing that has already sat on a counter for any length of time. Just sandwiches made the night before, saran-wrapped, refrigerated, and placed, together with the ice packs, in a towel, which goes in a bag that I keep in my trunk. Again, not in summer, during which I resort to the available fridge. Mr. Hubris, who is very germ-aware, insists I am out to poison myself, even though the food is in the car like this for maybe four hours before I eat it. I tell him have done this everywhere I have worked and never once had an issue. He says I am making myself sick without my even realizing it. I tell him that I am not asking him to eat it and to not to project his fear of food poisoning onto me. We are having an argument over this which I find absurd, involving hurt feelings and probably other issues that are tangentially related to the food question, if at all; but that is a whole other Ask.

Reader, I put my food in the fridge now, whatever, fine. I don't even have to be "right." I just want to know if the majority here would eat it or not. I imagine most will say no, but there are always people on here who it seems would eat almost anything and that would make me feel better about feeling like I am not some freak for not strictly adhering to restaurant-level food safety for food only I will eat.


posted by Armed Only With Hubris to Food & Drink (39 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
I would personally eat it. I think it would be safer if you bought a lunch bag type thing to put your sandwich and ice packs in to help keep the cold in.
posted by Night_owl at 3:22 PM on February 8, 2019 [2 favorites]

Would Eat, no doubt about it. That's what ice packs are for! I would feel slightly more comfortable if they were in some kind of insulated lunch box.

Definitely not during the California summer, though.
posted by sacrifix at 3:22 PM on February 8, 2019 [5 favorites]

100% would eat and indeed I go a step further by keeping any non-salad/non-meat leftovers on my desk until I'm ready to eat them. It's like 4 hours at room temp; I've never gotten sick and they don't reheat with a cold spot in the middle 🤷
posted by too bad you're not me at 3:22 PM on February 8, 2019 [14 favorites]

Is it cold when you take it out? If it is, you should be fine. That’s the point of ice packs. And so far as you being sick without even knowing it, Mr Hubris must be one of those fortunate people who has never suffered food poisoning because if you have it, TRUST ME, YOU KNOW ABOUT IT.
posted by Jubey at 3:23 PM on February 8, 2019 [10 favorites]

meatless sandwiches? I would (and have) eaten those after keeping them in an uninsulated bag in my purse under my desk all morning. This is a 100% would-eat situation. But yeah if you're keeping it in your trunk anyway, maybe a cooler if you're extra worried?
posted by brainmouse at 3:23 PM on February 8, 2019 [14 favorites]

My kids' lunches don't get this level of coldness and I let them eat it. There is no fridge available for them at school so their "insulated" but really not very well lunchboxes sit out all morning inside. I would also eat it myself, for those wondering.
posted by freezer cake at 3:24 PM on February 8, 2019 [18 favorites]

I would absolutely eat this. You are basically creating an icebox.

(I think this is strange on his end, actually, but to compromise, you can always get a soft cooler.)
posted by MountainDaisy at 3:24 PM on February 8, 2019 [3 favorites]

After years of my childhood of eating bologna sandwiches for school lunch which were sitting in my locker or cubby at room temperature until lunch time, I say eat it and ignore what he says because he's being silly. Unless it involves egg salad/mayo or something like that at room temperature for a long time then I'd be more careful.
posted by acidnova at 3:27 PM on February 8, 2019 [19 favorites]

How long is it in the car for? I'd totally eat this unless it was mayo-based but then again I avoid mayo even in ideal situations. Get an insulated lunch bag and you just described the entirety of my lunches eaten in school as a kid.
posted by cgg at 3:27 PM on February 8, 2019 [2 favorites]

I would eat it. I've done it with meat and without ice packs, though not in summer.

There's nothing wrong, and it's easy to prove if you want. Measure the temperature of the food after storage. Places like FDA have recommended times at various temperatures for different kinds of food and I expect you to be well within even the most conservative measurements.
posted by flimflam at 3:27 PM on February 8, 2019 [1 favorite]

I had an unrefrigerated two-day-old PBJ for lunch today and so far I haven't died. I rarely bother to refrigerate my lunch, even if it's meaty leftovers. It just sits in a tupperware in my bag in the truck until I am hungry, and then I eat it.

I've never gotten sick.
posted by Anticipation Of A New Lover's Arrival, The at 3:28 PM on February 8, 2019 [9 favorites]

It's because I carried my lunch to school as a kid (no icepacks, much lunchmeat) and ate them, and didn't die, that I never gave this a second thought.

Thank you. I will probably buy an insulated lunch box anyway, because why a regular bag (laziness is why) but I am glad to hear this isn't a huge "NO."
posted by Armed Only With Hubris at 3:41 PM on February 8, 2019 [8 favorites]

Whike hiking, I eat sandwiches at lunch which were packed in the morning. Have not died yet.
posted by frumiousb at 3:56 PM on February 8, 2019 [2 favorites]

I do the same things with my lunch, except I don't even use an ice pack. In fact, I just leave it in a corner of my office. And it's always leftovers. Usually meat.

Still alive.
posted by joyceanmachine at 4:00 PM on February 8, 2019 [3 favorites]

How do we think people survived before refrigeration? Our food is produced and stored far more cleanly than the foods of the past - and is far more full of preservatives - and yet people ate, eg, cheese that just sat around being cheese, and bread that just sat around being bread, and salt fish and so on.

When I was a mere slip of a child, lunches were never refrigerated, and we brought them in paper bags. Sandwich, carrot sticks and apple all sat unrefrigerated from breakfast until lunch, and yet there were no epidemics of food poisoning.
posted by Frowner at 4:02 PM on February 8, 2019 [17 favorites]

Yeah, I'll pack unrefrigerated sausages (pre-cooked though) in my backpack and eat them as late as the second dinner on a camping trip. It's always been perfectly fine.
posted by Anticipation Of A New Lover's Arrival, The at 4:07 PM on February 8, 2019

I do something similar - I pack my lunches in a small container, in a small bag with a single refreezable ice block. I have been doing this for years and haven't had issues, and my stomach can be unpredictably sensitive.

The main reason that I wouldn't eat some of the things that others might (unrefrigerated) is less food safety and more taste/texture preferences.
posted by sm1tten at 4:10 PM on February 8, 2019

Some people are just neurotic about these things and it's not worth arguing with them. My vegetarian coworker believes that her frozen vegetarian lunches (Amy's Organic) must be protected by multiple ice packs for the 20 minutes or so it takes her to drive to work in an air-conditioned car. We have a freezer and her stuff goes right into it until lunch.

Meanwhile, if your lunches are well wrapped they're likely not gonna get contaminated by a slightly gross work fridge.
posted by mareli at 4:12 PM on February 8, 2019 [4 favorites]

The only non-meat thing I might feel unsure about would be egg salad, and even that is probably fine with an ice pack.

I see food at potlucks staying out that long without anyone getting worried about it.
posted by FencingGal at 4:17 PM on February 8, 2019

Even store-bought mayo is not really something to worry about if you're handling your sandwich in the way you've described.
posted by queensissy at 4:28 PM on February 8, 2019 [1 favorite]

I would absolutely eat your lunch. I’d eat it even without the ice pack treatment.
posted by quince at 4:36 PM on February 8, 2019 [1 favorite]

posted by clawsoon at 4:39 PM on February 8, 2019 [1 favorite]

Actual food safety rules here: (I did a Food Safety certificate back in the day.)

For things that are meant to be room temperature, it's OK to have them out up to two hours- then you can't put it back in the fridge- and then another 2 hours before you need to bin it. (I worked in a kitchen that sold salads as well as hot food.) It's a cumulative 2 hours, so if it's out for an hour, fridged, and out for another hour, that's the first two hours gone.

For storing food, cooler is better, aiming for 0-4*C for a commercial fridge.

As a test, put a thermometer into your sandwich and wrap it as you would in the iceblocks. Measure at intervals over the day. I would bet that they stay pretty cool.

And yeah, would totally eat this, it wouldn't quite pass the level for sale in a restaurant (keeping in mind that customers could be very old, very young, or immunocompromised) but for personal use I would say it was fine.
posted by freethefeet at 4:40 PM on February 8, 2019 [2 favorites]

Unless the ice packs are causing condensation and making the sandwiches mushy, in which case gross, I'd only eat it if it wasn't refrigerated.

Refrigerated sandwiches in general seem weird to me.
posted by clawsoon at 4:40 PM on February 8, 2019 [2 favorites]

I had to go look where you were! If I did this in my car say, right now, I'd come back to frozen sandwiches.... Anyway, you are fine. Totally fine. Bread sits at room temperature for days. And so do, like, apples. And tomatoes. Etc. You're fine.
posted by annabear at 4:44 PM on February 8, 2019

Your food is for all practical purposes refrigerated; that's what an ice pack does. It would also be fine if it weren't refrigerated. It is very common to eat sandwiches that have been sitting in a room-temperature lunchbox all day, and people who do that do not normally make themselves sick without realizing it, whatever that could possibly even mean.
posted by waffleriot at 4:45 PM on February 8, 2019 [6 favorites]

Like you, I also dislike my workplace kitchen (we have a handful of as-yet-uncaught lunch thieves and even a couple "take a bite out of someone's food and put it back in the fridge" types, so bizarre) and tend to bring food that either doesn't require refrigeration or that can survive for a few hours with just ice packs.

I have been doing this with my lunch sandwiches my entire life and never once become sick or even mildly nauseous.

Only adding my two cents because I think it's important that you see the chorus of folks here who are telling you that this isn't bad or unsafe. You're fine.
posted by nightrecordings at 4:47 PM on February 8, 2019 [1 favorite]

Lord I would eat this without a second thought. This seems super safe. The icepacks seem like bordering on overkill, even, though I suppose with the heat amplifying effects of the trunk, they're a good idea. But if you were bringing the sandwiches inside, I wouldn't bother with icepacks.
posted by stray at 4:57 PM on February 8, 2019 [1 favorite]

It’s fine, but is there any reason you’re not just bringing your lunch (with ice pack) into the office rather than leaving it in your trunk? That would be my preference, as the temperature instead is more consistent. But yeah, this is no different than the lunch my kid brings to school. It’s fine.
posted by amro at 5:06 PM on February 8, 2019 [1 favorite]

I am very much like joyceanmachine in which I bring in my leftovers to my office (which never really is hot) and just let it sit for a few hours before I eat it. I'm still alive, it's been a few years.
posted by ataco at 6:32 PM on February 8, 2019

One million yrs ago we carried bologna sandwiches to school, put them on the shelf in the coatroom then ate them 4 hrs later and I am still alive and kicking. I’d eat the food you describe.

As long as the ice packs are cool the food should be just fine. If you’re not eating meat it’s even safer. Enjoy your lunch and ask H to butt out on this topic. Saying you’re making yourself sick w/o even knowing it is a bit over the top imho.

You could use an insulated lunchbag, a small cooler, or what I do which is to keep a thick walled styro cooler in my trunk, any of these would help keep the food cold. But you don’t have to because your system works perfectly as it is.
posted by RichardHenryYarbo at 6:41 PM on February 8, 2019 [1 favorite]

A member of my household has been carrying lunch to work in a mildly insulated lunch bag with a couple of ice packs for 20 years in South Florida. Some days, this involves lunchbox being taken indoors. Other times, this involves being in the truck IN MIAMI for hours at a time. If the (always the same: turkey sandwich or rollups) lunch is still cold when opened, they will eat it. This person has a very sensitive system. If there was a chance of getting sick, they would. They have not gotten sick. You have been refrigerating your lunch. I’d eat that, and I’m immunocompromised.
posted by Nancy_LockIsLit_Palmer at 9:19 PM on February 8, 2019 [1 favorite]

Meal kit services send their kits through the mail in cardboard boxes with ice packs above and below. They arrive cold, and they haven't poisoned me yet (admittedly, you do then cook the food, but still)
posted by BungaDunga at 10:36 PM on February 8, 2019 [4 favorites]

Sometime in my 150th year, a rouge curried egg sandwich that I did not refrigerate or even carry in an insulated bag before eating it six hours after making, might give me some stomach upset. I do not even think about refrigerating my sandwiches for anything but flavour and texture. How in the fuck do you think humans survived before the invention of the ice-box? Don't waste your nervous energy on something like this. Save it for the important stuff.
posted by Thella at 11:44 PM on February 8, 2019

Just adding to the choir: it's normal where I live to have a unrefrigerated sandwich in ones bag all morning. You are refrigerating yours with the icepacks. You are totally safe.
posted by mumimor at 1:51 AM on February 9, 2019

My daycare aged children have been eating lunches (including meat!!, like ham) stored all morning in an insulated lunch box with an ice pack for years. You’re totally fine.
posted by lydhre at 8:32 AM on February 9, 2019

Your husband is being ridiculous and I am sorry he has you so bullied that you think there's a possibility he's being reasonable and that most people would agree with him.
posted by drlith at 11:42 AM on February 9, 2019 [1 favorite]

Agreed its perfectly safe. If it's still cool, if the ice pack is still cold, especially okay.

You can improve things by using an insulated bag or small coolert, and by putting the lunch in a low spot (heat rises, cold falls) in the trunk. Not all sandwiches freeze well, but a sandwich that starts frozen stays cool longer.

When I take lunches, they are often leftovers that I have frozen, and they are usually partially thawed in the lunch bag before I nuke them. This would not be acceptable in a commercial kitchen, but it's fine for my individual use because I know it started out hot before it was frozen, and it affects no one else. If my lunch is from the fridge I keep bottles of water in the freezer and use one as my icepack, plus, cold water to drink. I've had food poisoning, but never from my bagged lunch. Food poisoning can be extremely dangerous, and the US food chain is concerning.

Can you deflect him by appreciating that he is concerned for you? Thank you for worrying about my safety. Food poisoning is serious, so I know you are showing your concern for me. And maybe get a small cooler to store your lunch. Your towel + bag is fine, but that might be an appeasement to his fears. I'd also work on some distractions for when he starts up. Dearest, I know you worry, but we have had this discussion too many times. What are *you* doing about lunch today?
posted by theora55 at 9:27 AM on February 10, 2019

i purposely use my trunk as a refrigerator in the winter months. i can get my grocery shopping done at lunch time and leave it in there until after work! this is fine.
posted by misanthropicsarah at 12:48 PM on February 11, 2019

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