USDA Toughens Standards for Ground Beef in School Lunches

We have long been writing about <"">food safety in the United States and, very specifically, have often written about how this state of affairs is affecting our children through the school lunch program. Very recently, we discussed that the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) was planning on launching what was described as “sweeping safety reforms” considered the most intense in the past ten years.

Now, USA Today, is writes that, this fall, the ground beef supplied to the school lunch program will be as safe as that sold to this country’s fast food chains. According to critics of the current program, this is expected to be a large improvement.

The USDA announced that after July 1, all ground beef purchased for the National School Lunch Program must adhere to the new standards, said USA Today, which noted that ground beef, chicken, and other foods feed over 31 million school children via the program.

As we mentioned earlier this year, meats supplied to this country’s school lunch program are not always as actively tested for food borne pathogens as some meat used in fast food restaurants. Under the new guidelines, the increased safety standards for federally purchased meat will be imposed and expected to go into effect by July, explained Morris. Other rules are expected for other products bought for the Program—eggs, produce, and poultry meat—said USA Today. The Program feeds about 31 million children daily.

According to Dave Theno—the retired food safety consultant best known for developing the stringent safety program for the Jack in the Box restaurant chain—the pending rules are “right in line with contemporary standards.… In fact, I’d make the case that the school lunch standards will now be above some of our major retail grocery chains. Not all, but some. They’ll be up there with the best,” quoted USA Today.

The rules, announced by the department in February, mandate increased microbiological testing and also call for beef sampling once every 15 minutes on production lines, said USA Today. Prior standards only allowed for eight samplings in one full production day, with those samples then being combined and tested once per shift, explained USA Today.

Suppliers with “a long-term poor safety record” will not be allowed to sell to the program until a full analysis of why their products did not pass inspections is completed, said Michael Jarvis, spokesman for the USDA’s Agricultural Marketing Service, said USA Today. The agency’s Agricultural Marketing Service buys beef for the program. Jarvis added that currently eligible contractors would not be ineligible under that requirement “if it were in effect,” reported USA Today.

Agriculture Secretary, Tom Vilsack, said that “The new standards … ensure our purchases are in line with major private-sector buyers of ground beef,” quoted USA Today. The news outlet conducted an investigation in November and December that uncovered flaws in government programs that were put in place to protect children and also found that fast food companies—McDonald’s and Jack in the Box, for example—had more scrupulous programs in place than the USDA, said USA Today.

According to USA Today, despite that many outbreaks originate in cafeterias, over 8,500 schools never had their kitchens inspected in 2008 and 18,000 did not meet mandates—part of the Program—under the Child Nutrition Act, which requires such inspections, occur twice yearly.

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