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GAO Asked to Probe School E. coli Risk

In reaction to the ongoing multistate E. coli beef outbreak, which has sickened 25 and caused two deaths, Representative George Miller (D-CA) asked the Government Accountability Office (GAO) to launch an investigation into the risk of E. coli getting into school lunches yesterday.

Though no schools in the federal school lunch program were affected by the recent beef recalls, Miller worries that tainted food could find its way onto children’s lunch trays.

school-lunch-tray-hamburger.jpgMiller, who chairs the House Education and Labor Committee, asked the GAO to look into whether there are adequate protections for school lunches and to compare the safety and quality of commercial ground beef and the ground beef available to school lunch programs.

The GAO released a report in September that found there are inadequate safeguards in place in the federal school meal programs. The report said federal officials had failed to communicate critical recall information to schools, making it possible for cafeterias to unknowingly serve tainted food to children.

The GAO also found that the USDA did not always follow up with schools to ensure that contaminated products were not served to children.

Miller’s request comes amid increased national attention to food safety, especially ground beef safety. Last month, a front page New York Times expose on E. coli in the beef supply sparked public interest and a flurry of media coverage. 

The recent E. coli beef outbreak, which sickened people in 10 states and caused over half a million pounds of ground beef to be recalled, has further pushed beef safety into the national discourse.

Congress is also working to address food safety concerns. 

The House passed a U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) food safety reform bill in July and the Senate is currently considering a similar bill–though the pending legislation only applies to FDA-regulated food products, not beef, poultry, or processed egg products, which fall under the jurisdiction of the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA). 

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