New US school lunch rules coming; companies should stay way ahead

Tomorrow’s USA Today talks about the new school lunch rules coming from the U.S. Department of Agriculture by this summer (sorry, kids already in school).

USDA official Craig Morris told program suppliers at a National Meat Association conference here last week that much work remains to ensure that food purchased for the National School Lunch Program — in particular, ground beef — is "as safe, wholesome and high quality" as the best commercial products.

Beef industry representatives here said they could adapt to the new standards but pressed the USDA to move fast so they know what changes will be required.

The new standards follow a USA TODAY investigation that revealed that beef bought by the USDA for school lunches is not tested as rigorously for bacteria and pathogens as beef bought by many fast-food chains. The newspaper also reported that some food producers have been allowed to continue supplying the school lunch program despite having poor safety records with their commercial products.

But as I like to harp, the big news, repeated in the USA Today story, is that Cargill and a company it owns, Beef Packers, are trialing the use of third-party video audits not just for animal welfare but to enhance food safety systems.

However, the third-party bit really doesn’t matter — haven’t there been enough outbreaks involving third-party audited farms and facilities? Just create a credible and transparent system to enhance consumer and buyer confidence. And don’t wait for the government to do it.