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."