Food safety standards for fast-food far better than for school lunches

Every semester I give a couple of lectures in an introductory food science class at Kansas State University and every semester I ask the same question: what is safe food, and what retailers come to mind when thinking about safe food?

Safe food is food that doesn’t make you barf; food that doesn’t make you barf is based on food safety programs validated with microbiological testing. Whole Foods Markets may be trendy and a nice place to shop, but they suck at food safety. Good food safety programs can be found at places like McDonald’s, Burger King, Costco and WalMart.

Students are generally surprised.

As will be readers of today’s USA Today, which once again slams the U.S. school lunch program as behind the times and proclaims that “McDonald’s, Burger King and Costco, for instance, are far more rigorous in checking for bacteria and dangerous pathogens. They test the ground beef they buy five to 10 times more often than the USDA tests beef made for schools during a typical production day. And the limits Jack in the Box and other big retailers set for certain bacteria in their burgers are up to 10 times more stringent than what the USDA sets for school beef.”

David Theno, who developed the safety program at Jack in the Box before retiring last year, says,

"We look at those (measures) to gauge how a supplier is doing.”  If shipments regularly exceed the company’s limits on indicator bacteria, "we’d stop doing business with them.”

Mansour Samadpour, a Seattle-based food safety consultant and microbiologist says the AMS approach to sampling "is not robust enough to find anything."