The USA Today reported today that "Federal agencies that supply food for 31 million schoolchildren [Food and Nutrition Service] fail to ensure that tainted products are pulled quickly from cafeterias." The audit, which was conducted by Congress’s Government Accountability Office, concluded that "The delays raise the risk of children being sickened by contaminated food," according to the USA Today.
The GAO audit focused on the recent Salmonella outbreak linked to peanuts and peanut products recalled by the Peanut Corporation of America, finding that the Food and Nutrition Service was six days delinquent in telling schools to pull products that were affected by the recall.
True, outbreaks tend to evolve, and information about potentially implicated products does too, but the GAO’s findings highlight a generally deficient approach taken by the FNS in disseminating information to schools about contaminated products. USA Today states as follows:
The [GAO] audit focuses on the Food and Nutrition Service, an arm of the Department of Agriculture that provides states and school systems with federally purchased commodities for school lunch and breakfast programs. The agency lacks systems to ensure that it is notified when the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) begins a food-safety investigation that may lead to a recall .
Then, instead of determining in advance whether a suspect product was sent to schools–and advising those schools not to serve the food while the investigation is underway–the service sometimes doesn’t begin that process until a recall announcement is made.
In response to the GAO audit, Rep. George Miller, Democrat from CA, stated "Further actions must be taken to strengthen the communications, planning and procedures needed to prevent recalled or contaminated foods from entering (school) cafeterias. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack says in a written response that the safety of school meals is of "utmost importance." According to the USA Today, Sec. Vilsack also stated that the Department of Agriculture is in the process of developing a system where the Department of Ag would receive advance notice when the FDA is investigating potentially contaminated food products.