September 22, 2009

In Response To New GAO Report, Gillibrand Introduces New Legislation To Protect More Than 30 Million School Children From Contaminated Food

Report Reveals that Schools Serving Children Tainted Food That Has Been Pulled From Grocery Stores - Federal Agencies Failing to Issue Alerts for Schools

Washington, DC - U.S. Senator Kirsten Gillibrand today introduced new legislation in response to a new report from the Government Accountability Office (GAO) revealing that federal agencies are not providing adequate information to schools about contaminated foods that are being pulled from grocery shelves.  The Safe Food for Schools Act would implement many of the report's recommendations, helping protect 31 million school children who receive food through the federal school lunch and breakfast programs by requiring federal agencies to issue proper alerts to schools. The complete GAO report can be viewed here.

"Parents should have confidence that the food their children are served at school is safe and free of contaminants," Senator Gillibrand said. "But schools aren't getting the information they need from the federal government to keep our kids safe from tainted products. Food items that are being pulled from grocery store shelves across the country are still being served to millions of school children. It's wrong, it's dangerous, and we need to take action. My legislation will make sure schools are alerted when foods are contaminated, so that children remain safe and healthy."

The GAO report on Food and Nutrition Services (FNS) uncovered that food items the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) says are contaminated are not being pulled from school cafeterias. Important alerts of infected foods, such as salmonella-infected peanut butter that sickened nearly 700 people, have failed to reach schools.

To improve information sharing and protect school children from contaminated food, Senator Gillibrand introduced new legislation that would direct the USDA to:

  • Develop guidelines in consultations with Agricultural Marketing Service and Farm Service Agency to help determine whether to institute an administrative hold on suspect commodities for school meal programs;
  • Work with states to explore ways for states to speed notification to schools;
  • Improve timelines and completeness of direct communication between FNS and schools about holds and recalls, such as through the commodity alert system;
  • Take the lead among USDA agencies to establish a time frame in which it will improve the USDA commodity hold and recall procedures to address the role of processors and determine distributors' involvement with processed products, which may contain recalled ingredients, to provide faster and more comprehensive information to schools;
  • Provide states with more specific instructions for schools to dispose of recalled commodities and obtain timely reimbursements;
  • Institute a systematic quality check procedure to ensure FNS holds on foods and products used by schools are carried out effectively; and
  • Direct the Food Service Inspection Service to revise its procedures to ensure that schools are included in effectiveness checks.