Report Reveals Fast Food is Far Safer Than School Lunches

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You might want to send your child with a sack lunch these days, that is if you want them to have food that is safe. A USA Today investigation revealed this week that the U.S. Department of Agriculture allows millions of pounds of meat into to the nation's schools that would not pass inspections by fast food chains like McDonald's or Burger King.

If you think that the school lunch program has your child’s best interest in mind it might be time to think again. Reporters discovered that the government rules aren't as stringent as those for fast-food chains. For instance, the limits Jack in the Box and other big name fast food places set for certain bacteria in their burgers are up to 10 times more stringent than what the USDA sets for school beef.

The reporters also discovered that in the instances of chicken that the USDA has supplied schools with thousands of tons of meat from old birds that might otherwise go to compost or pet food. In fact Colonel Sanders of KFC won't even buy them. The Campbell Soup Company says it stopped using those types of chickens over a decade ago based on "quality considerations."

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It appears that McDonald's, Burger King and Costco are very rigorous in checking for bacteria and dangerous pathogens. They test the ground beef they buy five to 10 times more often than the USDA tests beef made for schools during a typical production day.

“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," J. Glenn Morris, professor of medicine and director of the Emerging Pathogens Institute at the University of Florida, told USA Today reporter. "We are not using those same standards."

"Preferred Meal Systems, our food vendor, has systems in place such as microbiological testing at all stages of production from incoming ingredients to finished products to ensure the safety of the food," says Ed Wilkins, SFUSD director of student nutrition services. "This is outlined in their bid proposal to the district (every 5 years, SFUSD has a competitive bidding process for its meal delivery system). They also have systems in place to track the source of all products so that products can be swiftly recalled if necessary."

What we do know today is that the USDA purchases meat that feeds 31 million students a day and their standards for meat sent to schools is not nearly the standards of fast food. Government officials are looking at safeguards for school food. Congress will reexamine the Child Nutrition Act, which governs the school lunch program, next year. And in light of the USA Today investigation, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack has pledged to launch an independent review of testing standards of ground beef sent to schools.

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