School Meal Programs: Changes to Federal Agencies’ Procedures Could Reduce Risk of School Children Consuming Recalled Food

Source: United States Government Accountability Office, GAO-09-649, August 20, 2009

From the summary:
Over the past few years, several food recalls, such as for beef and peanut products, have affected schools. It is especially important that recalls affecting schools be carried out efficiently and effectively because young children have a higher risk of complications from food-borne illnesses. GAO was asked to determine how federal agencies (1) notified states and schools about food recalls, (2) advised states and schools about disposal and reimbursement of recalled food, and (3) ensured that recalls were being carried out effectively. To do this, GAO reviewed and analyzed relevant documents and interviewed federal and state officials, as well as officials from 23 school districts that had experience with at least one of four recent cases involving the safety of food in the school lunch program.

Despite its efforts, the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Food and Nutrition Service (FNS), which oversees federal school meals programs, did not always ensure that states and schools received timely and complete notification about suspect food products provided to schools through the federal commodity program. The federal commodity program provides food to schools at no cost to the schools, and accounts for 15 to 20 percent of food served in school meals.

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