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Schools Not Getting Timely Notice Of Recalled Foods, Audit Says

Sep 22, 2009 | Parker Waichman LLP Some 31 million children are at increased risk for food poisoning due to delays in tainted food products being removed from school cafeterias. 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).

In recent months, the United States has been hammered with a variety of food borne illnesses that have sickened hundreds and killed scores. The federal agencies responsible for food oversight have been harshly criticized for lax and inadequate processes, especially under the previous administration. One recall specifically caught the attention of the current administration in which a massive salmonella scandal linked to peanut products produced at the Peanut Corporation of America (PCA) revealed revolting conditions, contamination, and filth in its processing plants. That recall involved over 4,000 food products and the illnesses of some 700 people.

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. 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 Representative George Miller (Democrat-California), chair of the Committee on Education and Labor, quoted USA Today.

It took six days for the NFS to advise schools about the peanut-related recalls following an expansion of the first recall, said USA Today. The audit noted that over 225 children were sickened with Salmonella-related symptoms—46 were hospitalized—possibly after having “consumed the (tainted) products in school," reported USA Today.

We frequently report food borne contamination illnesses. For instance, E. coli, Salmonella, and Listeria dangerous and sometimes deadly, with children cited as being most vulnerable to the serious effects of contamination with these pathogens.

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. Some Salmonella bacteria 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 is responsible for an estimated 2,500 illnesses in the United States annually, with about 200 in every 1,000 cases resulting in death.


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