More than 28 million children receive meals daily through the federal school meal programs. Providing meals that are safe is especially important because young children have a higher risk of complications from some foodborne illnesses. GAO examined (1) the frequency and causes of reported foodborne illness outbreaks associated with the federal school meal programs and (2) the practices that federal, state, and local governments as well as other food providers find useful for safeguarding meals.
Recommendations for Executive Action
|Department of Health and Human Services||To improve nationwide data on the frequency and causes of foodborne illness associated with the federal school meal programs, the Secretary of Health and Human Services should require the Director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to revise the reporting mechanism that states use to voluntarily report foodborne outbreaks. Specifically, states should be prompted to specify whether reported outbreaks involved foods served through the federal school meal programs.|
|Department of Agriculture||To assist schools in their efforts to purchase safer food, the Secretary of Agriculture should direct the Administrator of the Agricultural Marketing Service to highlight on AMS's Web page the more stringent product safety specifications the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) uses when purchasing foods it donates to schools.|
|Department of Agriculture||To enhance the safety of the federal breakfast and lunch programs in participating school districts, the Secretary of Agriculture should direct the Administrator of the Food and Nutrition Service to further promote training and certification of key school food service personnel in food safety practices by, for example, publicizing the range of food safety training and certification opportunities available to school food service personnel from the American School Food Service Association, the National Restaurant Association, and other sources.|
|Department of Agriculture||To reduce the risk of bacterial contamination of food products USDA donates to schools, the Secretary of Agriculture should direct the Administrators of the Food and Nutrition Service and the Agricultural Marketing Service to study the advantages and disadvantages, including costs, of USDA donating only precooked or irradiated meat and poultry products to schools. Depending on the results of the study, the Secretary should consider whether to adopt these practices.|