Thursday, December 29, 2011

LA School District Sets Healthy Lunches Up for Failure

Trouble is afoot in lunchrooms throughout Los Angeles Unified School District. After much debate and discussion with local government, angry parents on both sides of the fence, and even Jamie Oliver who brought the debate to a very public stage in his Food Revolution reality show, the district made the choice to ban sweetened and flavored milk and revamp its lunch menus with healthier veggie-heavy options. But as LA Times reports, students are rejecting the new lunches and instead choosing to subsist on vending machine chips or pay a premium for burgers smuggled in by classmates.

“Participation in the school lunch program has dropped by thousands of students,” reads the report. “Principals report massive waste, with unopened milk cartons and uneaten entrees being thrown away. Students are ditching lunch, and some say they're suffering from headaches, stomach pains and even anemia. At many campuses, an underground market for chips, candy, fast-food burgers and other taboo fare is thriving.”

Faced with this conundrum, the school district is backing down. “Acknowledging the complaints, L.A. Unified's food services director, Dennis Barrett, announced this month that the menu would be revised,” the report continues. “Hamburgers will be offered daily. Some of the more exotic dishes are out, including the beef jambalaya, vegetable curry, pad Thai, lentil and brown rice cutlets, and quinoa and black-eyed pea salads. And the Caribbean meatball sauce will be changed to the more familiar teriyaki flavor. The district is even bringing back pizza — albeit with a whole wheat crust, low-fat cheese and low-sodium sauce, according to food services deputy director David Binkle.”


It’s a sad crossroad for the school lunch program, especially considering how much good a healthier menu could do for its students – and how much this failure could set back school lunch plans as a whole, considering how strongly some are lobbying for even less strictness on health standards.

But on further examination, it seems that the program’s failure was unfortunately doomed from the beginning. For one thing, most children aren’t likely to just readily accept drastic change – there was bound to be some pushback from kids, especially those who haven’t had prior experience with varied multicultural dishes and weren’t given a chance to ease in to them.

But even more tellingly, the newly implemented lunch plan failed to impress even kids who liked it during preliminary tests. According to the LA Times, one student mentioned that he greatly enjoyed the new meals when he tried them at a taste test conducted over the summer. “But on campus,” the student told the press, “the chicken pozole was watery, the vegetable tamale was burned and hard, and noodles were soggy.” If schools couldn’t be bothered to prepare the new meals properly, it shouldn’t be surprising that students can’t be bothered to eat them.

On the plus side, the most recent iteration of the school district’s meal plan will still be healthier than what it originally started with. But it’s clear that, when it comes to getting diverse, high quality nutrition into schools, this country still has a long way to go.

[VIA: Food Safety News]

Friday, June 10, 2011

C.D.C.: Salmonella infection rates on the rise

One million people sickened by food-borne pathogen each year

ATLANTA — Salmonella infections have not decreased during the past 15 years and have instead increased by 10%, according to "Vital Signs," a report issued by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

During the same period, the report noted, illnesses caused by pathogens such as E. coli O157 have declined nearly 50% and the overall rates of six food-borne infections have been reduced
by 23%.

"Although food-borne infections have decreased by nearly one-fourth in the past 15 years, more than 1 million people in this country become ill from Salmonella each year, and Salmonella accounts for about half of the hospitalizations and deaths among the nine food-borne illnesses C.D.C. tracks through FoodNet," said Thomas R. Frieden, director of the C.D.C.

"Salmonella costs hundreds of millions of dollars in direct medical costs each year. Continued investments are essential to detect, investigate, and stop outbreaks promptly in order to protect our food supply.

Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Southeast students served raw onions as snack

No matter how you slice it, the days of milk and cookies are long gone as schools aim to provide students with healthy fruits and vegetables as snacks.
But raw onions?

That's what several classes of students at Southeast's Turner Elementary were fed Tuesday, instead of the zucchini slices the school's food provider, Chartwells, said it would serve as part of a federal initiative to provide healthy food to young learners.

When Trevor Rill picked up the snack bags from the cafeteria for his third-grade class, he found bundles of raw scallions -- those long, green stalks of onion usually reserved for cooking.

"I asked the cafeteria workers, 'Are you serious?' and they said, 'This is what they sent us,'" said Rill, one of nine City Year corps members assigned to Turner. "So I held them out and said, 'This is what we have,' and the kids went nuts. Two of them ate it in front of me and said, 'This is disgusting.'"

Turner Elementary is one of the District's 53 public elementary schools participating in the federal Fresh Fruit and Vegetable Program. Under the 2008 farm bill, the District received $1.2 million this school year to serve students a vegetable or piece of fruit outside of breakfast and lunch hours. The program is likely to expand to more schools next year as funding increases to $1.7 million.

The school system contracts with three food providers, but Chartwells serves the majority of schools, including Turner. Chartwells' executive director and dietician did not return calls from The Washington Examiner seeking comment.

Sandra Schlicker, director of wellness and nutrition services for the Office of the State Superintendent of Education, said Chartwells officials confirmed that the scallions were intended as a lunch ingredient, but because of a mix-up, were packaged as the day's snack. Turner's principal intercepted the onions before they reached all classrooms, but "some of the scallions were served to students," Schlicker confirmed.

D.C. Public Schools also acknowledged the incident, saying "school administration took quick action" and that "ultimately students were served apples." As for Chartwells, DCPS "is confident that this was an isolated event," spokeswoman Safiya Simmons said.

Because he "grew up in the sticks of Maryland," Rill said he took a few bites. Some of the kids brought the scallions home for their parents to cook with dinner.

But "A lot of the teachers were outraged and frustrated," said Rachel Dougherty, who assists a first-grade classroom.

Dougherty's class did not receive the snack bags -- but when she took a student out in the hall to discuss his behavior, the student found a discarded bag of scallions in the hallway. "He picked it up and started chewing on them and made these really gross-out faces, and said, 'I'm so glad we didn't get a snack today."

Monday, December 20, 2010

CDC releases new foodborne illness estimates

ATLANTA — New figures published by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimate that 48 million Americans get sick, 128,000 are hospitalized and 3,000 die each year from food-borne illness. The agency said the new figures are more accurate than previous estimates due to better data used. The findings were published in the journal Emerging Infectious Diseases.

The C.D.C.’s new estimates are lower than those published by the agency in 1999, when it estimated 76 million people fell ill due to food-borne illness, 325,000 hospitalizations and 5,000 deaths. The difference is largely the result of improvements in the quality and quantity of the data used and new methods used to estimate food-borne disease, according to the C.D.C.
For example, it is now known that most norovirus is not spread by the food-borne route, which has reduced the estimate of food-borne norovirus from 9.2 to approximately 5.5 million cases per year. Because of data and method improvements, the C.D.C. said the 1999 and current estimates cannot be compared to measure trends.

“We’ve made progress in better understanding the burden of food-borne illness and unfortunately, far too many people continue to get sick from the food they eat,” said Thomas Frieden, director of the C.D.C. “These estimates provide valuable information to help the C.D.C. and its partners set priorities and further reduce illnesses from food.”

The report noted Salmonella is the leading cause of estimated hospitalizations and deaths, responsible for about 28% of deaths and 35% of hospitalizations due to known pathogens transmitted by food. About 90% of estimated illnesses, hospitalizations, and deaths were due to seven pathogens: Salmonella, norovirus, Campylobacter, Toxoplasma, E. coli O157, Listeria and Clostridium perfringens. And nearly 60% of estimated illnesses, but a much smaller proportion of severe illness, was caused by norovirus.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Manor district creates high-tech school kitchen

Decker Elementary School's kitchen has gone high tech.

A computer system paid for with a federal stimulus grant has given the kitchen staff a swifter way to organize menus, keep track of daily work and inventory, and monitor ovens and other appliances. Because of the system, installed in August 2009, the kitchen manager has reduced her paperwork and can focus more attention on food safety and efficiency, officials said.
Manor school district officials took U.S. Department of Agriculture officials on a kitchen tour at the eastern Travis County school Tuesday .

George Townsend , the district's food service director, said that not only has the technology made kitchen management more efficient, it also has given employees a greater sense of purpose.

"I think they enjoy their jobs more," Townsend said. "By having healthier food and putting an emphasis on how important nutrition is, it makes them feel like their job is more important."
Money from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 paid for the system and new ovens. Decker received $16,000 for the revamped kitchen, Townsend said.

Decker needed a secondary oven after removing its fryer to comply with the 2004 Texas Public School Nutrition Policy, which required that all schools eliminate the use of deep fryers in their daily meal preparations in an effort to fight child obesity.

About 20 percent of Texas children ages 10 to 17 are obese, a recent report by the Trust for America's Health and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation found. That rate ties Texas with Arkansas in seventh place for child obesity, according to the report, "F as in Fat: How Obesity Threatens America's Future 2010."

Janey Thornton , USDA deputy undersecretary for food, nutrition and consumer services , toured Decker on Tuesday to see the government's money in action. She spoke about the need to solve the childhood obesity problem in the United States.

"We recognize that schools are only a small part of the issue," Thornton said. "We need to be teaching kids at school how to eat and then have parents reinforce it at home."

Decker's new computerized kitchen and convection ovens have inspired the kitchen staff in the year since they were installed, Decker Principal Leslie Whitworth said.

"The food is fresh and made from ingredients in the kitchen rather than just something packaged," Whitworth said. "Preparing food and watching the children enjoy it makes them a stronger part of the Decker community."

Teachers at Decker push students to try new foods and learn good eating habits, which some kitchen staff members say is working.

"I think the children like what they are eating," said Susan Covington , Decker's PTA president. "I've never seen as many people get involved in the nutrition program before."

Sunday, August 8, 2010

E. coli fears prompt 1 million lb. ground-beef recall

WASHINGTON – Valley Meat Company, Modesto, Calif., is recalling (Class I Recall-Health Risk High) approximately 1 million lbs. of frozen ground-beef patties and bulk ground-beef products that may be contaminated with E. coli O157:H7, the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Food Safety and Inspection Service (F.S.I.S.) announced on Aug. 6.

On July 15, F.S.I.S. became aware of the problem when the agency was notified by the California Department of Public Health (C.D.P.H.) of a small E. coli O157:H7 cluster of illnesses with a rare strain as determined by P.F.G.E. sub-typing. Six patients with illness onset dates between April 8 and June 18 were reported at that time. After further review, C.D.P.H. added another patient from February to the case count, bringing the count to seven. F.S.I.S. is continuing to work with the C.D.P.H. and the company.

Products subject to recall bear the establishment number "EST. 8268" inside the U.S.D.A. mark of inspection, as well as a production code of 25709 through 01210. These products were produced between Oct. 2, 2009 through Jan. 12, 2010, and were distributed to retail outlets and institutional foodservice providers in California, Texas, Oregon, Arizona and internationally.

When available, the retail distribution list(s) will be posted on F.S.I.S.' Website at Concerns exist that some product may still be frozen and in consumers' freezers. F.S.I.S. strongly encourages consumers to check their freezers and immediately discard any product that is the subject of this recall.

Thursday, July 1, 2010

U.S.D.A. finalizes ground-beef standards for lunches

WASHINGTON – The U.S. Department of Agriculture has finalized what it is calling tougher new standards for ground beef purchased by the Agricultural Marketing Service for federal food and nutrition assistance programs including the National School Lunch Program, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack announced. "It is one of my highest priorities to ensure that food provided to the National School Lunch Program and other nutrition programs is as safe and nutritious as possible," Mr. Vilsack said. "The new standards guarantee our purchases are in line with major private-sector buyers of ground beef. We will continue to apply the best scientific knowledge to increase the safety across the board of our nutritional programs."

In February, Mr. Vilsack announced a series of initiatives to improve the safety of food purchased for nutrition assistance programs. The final standards are the result of a detailed, ongoing review by U.S.D.A.'s Food Safety and Inspection Service (F.S.I.S.) and Agricultural Research Service (A.R.S.). These new requirements will be applicable to A.M.S. ground beef contracts awarded on or after July 1. The A.M.S. released a draft of the plan in May with a request for comments. Based upon comments and data submitted by the Department of Agriculture's F.S.I.S. and A.R.S. and members of the general public, revisions were made to the final specification that will be used for purchases beginning in July.

The new A.M.S. standards, in addition to continuing a zero tolerance for E. coli O157:H7 and Salmonella: (1) tighten microbiological testing protocols; (2) tighten the microbiological upper specification and critical limits; (3) increase microbiological sampling frequency for finished products to every 15 minutes; and, (4) institute additional rejection criteria for source trimmings used to manufacture AMS purchased ground beef. A.M.S. will also consider any vendor classified by F.S.I.S. as having a long term poor safety record as an ineligible vendor until a complete cause-and-effect analysis is completed.