Food Safety Rules Lax For Schools

Sadly, this country’s schools have received millions of pounds of meat and chicken that do not meet f<"">ood quality and safety standards in place for fast food restaurants, said USA Today, noting food chains such as Jack in the Box and KFC. USA Today conducted a large investigation on the issue.

According to USA Today, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) argues that its meat, purchased and used for the National School Lunch Program “meets or exceeds standards in commercial products.” But, said USA Today, this really isn’t the case and fast food and convenience locations, such as Burger King, McDonald’s, and Costco, actually have much more stringent processes in place to look for food borne pathogens. As a matter-of-fact, USA Today found that these outlets test their ground beef an astounding five-to-10 times more frequently than the federal agency tests beef for America’s school children and have in place limits that are upwards of 10 times more strict than the USDA has for its school program beef.

The USA Today investigation also found that the USDA has provided schools with thousands of tons of meat from older birds—“spent hens”—that are slated for compost or pet food. So-called spent hens are not permitted in KFC foods, nor does the Campbell Soup Company accept this poultry, and hasn’t for ten years, based on what it described as “quality considerations,” said USA Today.

“We simply are not giving our kids in schools the same level of quality and safety as you get when you go to many fast-food restaurants,” said J. Glenn Morris, professor of medicine and director of the Emerging Pathogens Institute at the University of Florida, quoted USA Today. “We are not using those same standards,” Morris added.

USA Today provided officials at the USDA with the findings from its investigation. Tom Vilsack, Agriculture Secretary, promised that an independent review of ground beef testing requirements that the Agricultural Marketing Services (AMS) provides schools, will be conducted, said USA Today.

Meanwhile, USA Today looked at approximately 150,000 tests on beef bought for the school lunch program—the USDA buys over 100 million pounds of beef annually for the program—and found cases in which students were fed meats that would have been rejected by retailers and fast food establishments. Also, Beef Packer one of the more problematic meat supplies has been suspended as an AMS supplier on three separate occasions and has just been urged to close by Representative Rosa DeLauro (Democrat-Connecticut), following two recalls.

The AMS bought close to 500,000 pounds of ground beef from Beef Packers and another supplier, Skylark, from November 2008 through January 2009, that tested with very high levels of “generic E. coli,” a bacteria indicator, that can point to the dangerous, sometimes deadly, pathogenic food borne toxin, E. coli O157:H7.

We recently wrote that some 31 million children are at increased risk for food poisoning due to delays in tainted food products being removed from school cafeterias. USA Today also previously wrote, citing a federal audit it obtained, that federal agencies supplying food for schoolchildren are not ensuring swift removal of tainted food from cafeterias. These actions increase the risk of schoolchildren falling ill due to food borne contaminations, according to the Government Accountability Office (GAO).

According to the GAO audit, the government did not release “timely and complete notification about suspect food products provided to schools through the federal commodities program,” noting that alerts could take over a week to be seen by schools, schools, “during which time (schools) unknowingly served affected products,” quoted USA Today.

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