At least seven children have been confirmed ill with E. coli O157:H7 infections, with another six illnesses awaiting confirmation from health officials in an E. coli outbreak among students of Galena Elementary School and their siblings.  In an article about the Floyd County E. coli outbreak that looked into whether the outbreak was part of an E. coli outbreak traced to consumption of Topps Meats ground beef, the Louisville Courier-Journal interviewed school district and health department officials about the investigation into the  Floyd County children’s illnesses.

Dave Rarick, a spokesman for the New Albany-Floyd County schools, said the district does not use frozen hamburger supplied by the Topps Meat Co. in New Jersey, which on Tuesday announced a recall of more than 330,000 pounds of frozen meat because of possible E. coli contamination.

The Floyd County cases all involve students or siblings of students at Galena Elementary in Floyds Knobs, with seven of the cases confirmed as caused by the E. coli bacteria and six others deemed probable.

Rarick said the school system uses precooked hamburger supplied by the J.T.M. Co.

E. coli outbreaks and outbreaks of other foodborne illnesses have been traced back to school lunches in the past.  There have been outbreaks associated with improperly cooked ground beef, ammonia-contaminated chicken tenders, contaminated lettuce, and other foods. 

Background on the National School Lunch Program (NSLP):

Congress created the NSLP decades ago, as a measure of national security, to safeguard the health and well being of the Nation’s children. It was a direct response to the fact that many of the young men responding to the draft call in WWII were rejected due to conditions arising from serious nutritional deficiencies. The 1946 National School Lunch Act was enacted to provide the opportunity for children across the United States to receive at least one healthy meal every school day. It is presently an $8 billion program.

The NSLP provides per meal cash reimbursements as entitlements to schools to provide nutritious meals to children. The NSLP provides school children with one-third or more of their Recommended Dietary Allowance (RDA) for key nutrients. United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) research indicates that children who participate in school lunch have superior nutritional intakes compared to those who do not.

The NSLP provided meals to 26.1 million children in 1998. More than 15 million low-income children receive free or reduced-price school lunches daily. Over 93,000 schools currently participate in the NSLP. About 95 percent of all elementary and secondary school students are enrolled in participating schools.

The USDA spends over $200 million annually buying over 200 million pounds of meat through its commodities program to supply, in part, the NSLP and to support food prices when the market has gone soft. An arm of USDA, Food Safety and Inspection Services (FSIS), has the responsibility of inspecting plants that supply meat to the NSLP and the public at large.

In most States, the meat is distributed by the USDA to the Superintendent of Public Education (SPI) through the Child Nutrition Program (CNP), at no cost to school districts throughout the state.