USDA announces food safety initiatives for school lunch program

Seeks to improve communication about recalls and improve purchasing practices

Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack has announced several new food safety initiatives for the National School Lunch Program and other nutrition assistance programs. While the changes focus on ensuring the safety of ground beef, they could have consequences for every food segment.

As part of the plan, the USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service will work with the Agricultural Marketing Service, a USDA agency that purchases meat, poultry and other crops for the school lunch program, to review meat, poultry and processed egg vendors.

The plan requires USDA agencies to share more information with each other so they can better monitor vendor performance and identify potential food safety issues. Information would include in-plant enforcement actions, positive pathogen test results, contract suspensions and recall notifications.

In addition, the USDA’s Food and Nutrition Service is charged with developing performance criteria and providing financial assistance so states can rapidly communicate with schools and school districts about product recalls and food safety. USA Today recently reported that the government has no unified system for notifying schools in the case of a food safety recall.

“These changes and continuous reviews will ensure that the food USDA distributes to school children and others meets the highest quality and safety standards,” the USDA said in a statement.

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