Joseph Straw of the Journal Register News reports that U.S. Rep. Rosa DeLauro, D-3, and a leading national advocacy group have joined in a campaign to increase the safety of food served to youngsters in the nation’s school cafeterias.
DeLauro, co-chairwoman of the bipartisan House Food Safety Caucus, joined the Center for Science in the Public Interest in proposing a school food safety “bill of rights,” including provisions such as easy access to health inspection scores.
Incidences of food-borne illnesses like E. coli and salmonella resulting from school food have doubled in the past decade, but the reason for the increases is unknown, officials said.
“Since children are particularly vulnerable to food-borne illness, schools must be vigilant in their efforts to ensure that cafeterias are not putting children at risk. These changes in law will support parents who want to work with school principals and food-service directors to ensure a safe environment,” DeLauro said.
The Child Nutrition and Women and Infants and Children Reauthorization Act, passed by Congress last year, increased the number of food safety inspections required in schools.
“With 28 million children eating lunch at school every day in the United States, I believe government has an obligation to ensure parents have some peace of mind when they send their children off to school in the morning,” DeLauro said.
The campaign of Center for Science in the Public Interest will include the assignment of grades to major cities based on their school inspection reports and public education on how various critical violations can cause food-borne illnesses.
DeLauro advocates consolidation of the government’s 12 food-safety agencies into a single bureau.
Center for Science in the Public Interest issued a report card on the accessibility of school food safety information in 25 jurisdictions around the country, including the Avon-based Farmington Valley Health District and the city of Hartford.
The Farmington Valley agency, one of only two in the state that posts restaurant and food-service facility inspection scores on its Web site, got a “C.” The Hartford Department of Health and Human Services got an “F.”
Paul Kowalski of the New Haven Health Department noted that health inspection information is subject to state Freedom of Information law, and is, therefore, only a phone call away regardless of locality.
“If anybody asks, we’ll tell them over the phone, or we’ll send it to them in the mail,” Kowalski said.
The New Haven Board of Education’s central kitchen, operated under contract by Aramark, passed its last inspection, with another routine inspection scheduled to take place today and Tuesday, Kowalski said.
Michael Pascucilla, assistant director of Hartford’s health department, said the agency inspects city public school kitchens.
Whether to post results on city Web sites is “really a question of resources,” Pascucilla said, such as whether cities want to spend time and money maintaining Web content rather than simply fielding inquiries from residents.