There are about 16,000 school districts in the United States, and the USDA can't notify them immediately if they may be serving unsafe food to students in lunch cafeterias.
That much was proved by the largest meat recall in history, which saw Westland/Hallmark Meat Co., one of the largest suppliers of beef to schools, go under because it was illegally slaughtering "downer" cows too weak or sick to stand. Some cafeterias served the suspect beef for 12 days after the recall, because they hadn't been notified.
While no illnesses resulted from the incident, it highlighted unsafe practices that can easily lead to contaminated meat, and it also highlighted how poor the lines of communication are between the agency responsible for food inspection, and those feeding it to the most children every day.
The School Nutrition Association is expected to ask the USDA to improve its recall communication system today, according to USA Today.
The whole episode shows the importance of strong citizen groups. The Humane Society's undercover investigation highlighted the unsafe slaughterhouse practices that had gone undetected by USDA inspectors, and now consumer groups and school groups like the School Nutrition Association are fighting to ensure that the lessons learned are institutionalized.
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