E. Coli Outbreak Prompts Call For Investigation Of School LunchesNov 9, 2009 | Parker Waichman LLP
We recently wrote that some 31 million children are at increased risk for food poisoning due to delays in tainted food products being removed from school cafeterias.
Now, reports the Associated Press (AP), the House Education and Labor Committee chair is seeking a probe into the potential for the dangerous, sometimes deadly, E. coli pathogen to contaminate school lunches. In September, USA Today, citing a federal audit it obtained, wrote that federal agencies supplying food for schoolchildren are not ensuring swift removal of tainted food from cafeterias. These actions increase the risk of schoolchildren falling ill due to food borne contaminations, said USA Today, according to the Government Accountability Office (GAO), Congress’ investigative arm.
Following a recent E. coli outbreak linked to beef from Fairbank Farms in Ashville, New York, in which two people fell ill and scores of others died in multiple states, at least one lawmaker expressed concern, said the AP. Representative George Miller (Democrat-California) said he is worried that contaminated food could become part of school meal programs, explained the AP.
Representative Miller asked the GAO to look into protections for school meals at not only the federal level, but at local and state levels, as well, and has requested that the investigation include a comparison of ground beef safety and quality to schools and to nonschool establishments, such as restaurants, reported the AP.
According to the GAO audit, the government did not release “timely and complete notification about suspect food products provided to schools through the federal commodities program,” noting that alerts could take over a week to be seen by schools, schools, “during which time (schools) unknowingly served affected products,” quoted USA Today previously. The audit looked at the Food and Nutrition Service (FNS), which is, said USA Today, a branch of Department of Agriculture (USDA) responsible to supply lunch and breakfast meal programs to school systems and states with “federally-purchased commodities,” said USA Today.
The audit said the FNS does not have the “systems” in place to ensure it receives notification when the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) initiates an investigation that could lead to a recall, said USA Today, and that the FNS does not determine if a potentially contaminated food product makes it to a school until a recall is well underway. “Further actions must be taken to strengthen the communications, planning and procedures needed to prevent recalled or contaminated foods from entering (school) cafeterias,” said Miller previously, quoted USA Today.
E. coli can lead to fatal blood poisoning, cystitis, deadly septicemia, and death and has been linked to drug-resistant cases. E. coli sickens about 73,000 and kills about 61 people each year. Last year, over 22 million pounds of beef and vegetables were recalled due to E. coli outbreaks. Salmonella, another foodborne pathogen of concern in recent years, are resistant to antibiotics and Salmonella is the most frequently reported cause of food-related outbreaks of stomach illness worldwide. Salmonella poisoning can lead to Reiter’s Syndrome, a difficult-to-treat reactive arthritis. Listeria, another pathogen making headlines recently, is responsible for an estimated 2,500 illnesses in the United States annually, with about 200 in every 1,000 cases resulting in death.