By Ann Bradley – EdWeek
Most of the 29 million meals served in school cafeterias each day are nutritious and safe, but some school districts and local governments aren’t conducting frequent enough inspections or using up-to-date food-safety standards, leaving students at risk of food poisoning, the report says.
Young children in particular face a higher risk of complications from infections caused by e. coli, salmonella, and other potentially deadly food-borne pathogens, it says.
Federal food-safety standards call for cafeterias to be inspected twice a year.
WHAT DANGER LURKS IN THE SCHOOL CAFETERIA?
CSPA Press Release: New CSPI Report Finds School Districts Lagging in Food Safety
In “Making the Grade,” CSPI analyzed inspection reports from high school cafeterias in 20 jurisdictions across the country and then rated those jurisdictions on the rigor of food-safety inspections, frequency of inspections, and ease of access to the results of cafeteria inspections. Some inspection reports documented unacceptable conditions such as roaches, both dead and alive; rodent droppings; and improper food storage and handling techniques.
“Cities, counties, and school districts shouldn’t wait until a major outbreak of Hepatitis A, E. coli, or Salmonella forces them to update their food codes and ramp up inspections,” said Ken Kelly, food safety attorney for CSPI and lead author of the report. “Regrettably, many school cafeterias may be just one meal away from an outbreak.”
Of the 20 jurisdictions evaluated,
CSPI’s Outbreak Alert! database has documented more than 11,000 cases of foodborne illnesses associated with schools between 1990 and 2004. Just one outbreak can have devastating consequences on the health of students, productivity in the classroom, and even on school district’s finances. In 2003, the Washington State Supreme Court upheld a $4.6 million verdict against a school district after 11 children were sickened from E. coli linked to ground beef in tacos.
The most common pathogens responsible for school outbreaks include E. coli, Clostridium perfringens, Norovirus, and Salmonella, according to CSPI’s database. Infections from Norovirus and Hepatitis A are often linked to infected food handlers and other critical violations in school cafeterias. Salmonella, which is common on raw poultry, can spread to fresh produce if those foods are stored too closely together. If not cooked to 160 degrees Fahrenheit, hamburgers and other foods containing ground beef can harbor E. coli.
To protect school children from food poisoning, CSPI recommends the following measures:
• State and local governments should adopt up-to-date safety standards and receive adequate funding to ensure compliance with federal inspection regulations outlined in the Child Nutrition and WIC Reauthorization Act of 2004.
• Schools should request timely inspections, employ certified food handlers, and use the best food safety procedures.
• Parents should monitor conditions in their child’s cafeteria and advocate for optimal food safety policies.
CSPI’s complete report, “Making the Grade,” is on the web at www.cspinet.org/new/pdf/makingthegrade.pdf.