December 16, 2009
WASHINGTONSen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), who sits on the committee overseeing the National School Lunch Program, called Dec. 14 for the government to raise its standards for meat sent to schools across the nation.
In a letter to Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack, Gillibrand urged "a strict testing program" for ground beef similar to those "used by industry leaders such as Jack in the Box and Costco."
Although the U.S. Department of Agriculture already sets special inspection and testing requirements for the meat it sends to schools, a USA TODAY investigation this month found that those requirements lag those set by many fast-food restaurants and grocery chains. The fast food chains set tougher limits for certain bacteria in their hamburger. Ground beef for school lunches can contain up to 10 times the level of some "indicator bacteria"organisms that, at high levels, suggest the presence of dangerous pathogens such as E. coli O157:H7.
Gillibrand called on the USDA "to terminate contracts with any habitual violators of your food-safety policies." In particular, she cited Beef Packers, a Fresno, Calif., firm that has been a major supplier to the school program.
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