As part of its initiative to improve school lunch safety, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) is accepting grant applications from universities to establish a center of excellence for school food safety research. The agency will grant one award of $800,000 for FY 2010 to establish the research center.

researcher-featured.jpgThe center’s mission will be “to provide science-based support to improve the safety of foods provided through the [Food and Nutrition Service] nutrition assistance programs, particularly those served in schools and child care settings,” according to USDA.

“The center will be established at a university that has an interdisciplinary group of faculty available to address food safety issues, including but not limited to, expertise in food safety, food microbiology, foodservice management, agricultural production (both livestock and plants), psychology, sociology, research design, and statistics.”

The grant is part of a series of initiatives, announced by USDA in early February, to improve the safety and quality of food purchased for the National School Lunch Program and other federal nutrition assistance programs, including new food safety purchasing requirements for its beef suppliers and a thorough review of the entire program by the National Academies of Science (NAS).

The USDA’s new policy initiatives were announced in the wake of increased national attention to school lunch safety after a series of USA Today exposes found major gaps in the current system. A recent New York Times article also questioned the efficacy and safety of an ammonia processing technique used in ground beef widely purchased by the school lunch program.

“Nothing is more important than the health and well-being of our Nation’s school children,” said Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack when he announced the food safety initiative. “We must do everything we can to ensure that our kids are being served safe, high quality foods at school. Today’s announcement demonstrates our commitment to constantly improving the safety and quality of foods purchased by USDA.”

The agency is currently accepting applications. The USDA’s formal request for applications, with all the details, is available here.

Photo Credit:  CDC/ Hsi Liu, Ph.D., MBA, James Gathany