Why Fast Food is “Healthier” Than School Lunches: The Shocking USDA Truth

Updated
|
Why Fast Food is “Healthier” Than School Lunches: The Shocking USDA Truth
Your child’s public school lunches may be held to lower quality criteria than even fast food. Learn about the shocking investigations that expose the dangers and risks of public school cafeteria lunches.

Chicken nuggets, pizza, hamburgers, and iceberg lettuce salads: these nutritionally-questionable food choices are common fare on public school lunch menus. However, beyond the question of healthy food options is a much scarier prospect: are school lunches even safe for our children to consume?

The potential prevalence of E. Coli in school lunches has already been scrutinized, but there are more nasty shocks in store for parents and public school students. In fact, the standards governing the preparation and food content of school lunches fall short of minimums imposed upon even fast-food restaurants, such as KFC and McDonalds!

Meaty Treats: The USDA’s Low-Quality Provisions

The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) oversees the school lunch program countrywide. Although there are strict guidelines in place, a significant percentage of the millions of pounds of meat consumed by children in the school cafeteria continually fail to meet quality standards imposed by fast-food outlets.

No parent would feed their child meat only fit for pet food or compost, yet meat from “old birds” is exactly what children are being served at school, as found by USA Today’s investigation. Even KFC and the Campbell Soup Company refuse to buy such meat because of quality considerations, and these corporations stopped doing so more than a decade ago – yet our children are eating this very type of questionable quality meat.

This video from The Rubin Report discusses the low quality of many public school lunches.

School meat quality standards are slightly more stringent than standards for supermarket meats, but this is of little comfort to the millions of parents concerned for their child’s general health. More than 31 million children consume a school lunch each day, and almost two-thirds of them participate in the free or reduced-price meal program. The parents of these children, many of whom rely on the meal programs for their daily sustenance, are being left at the mercy of the USDA until next year when Congress begins to revise the Child Nutrition Act.

Pathogen Danger: Why USDA Standards Are Not Stringent Enough

Not only are school children being served meat unfit for even a McDonalds’ burger, but they are also at risk of ingesting harmful bacteria and pathogens hidden within the food. Some reports suggest that fast-food restaurants actually check for bacteria and pathogens between five and ten times more often than school lunch meats. An independent investigation conducted by USA Today concluded that out of 150,000 tests on school beef, most did, in fact, satisfy the criteria imposed by other large beef buyers. Alarmingly, however, there were cases where the Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS), which purchases meat for schools, bought meats with pathogen and E. coli levels which even exceeded acceptable levels for fast-food outlets!

Pathogens and bacteria housed in school cafeteria food are thought to be responsible for many stomach virus outbreaks nationwide. In Arizona, two people experienced such sickness after eating meat supplied by Beef Packers of California, which was allegedly contaminated with salmonella. Beef Packers have twice been forced to recall huge quantities of beef, and several members of Congress are calling for this supplier to be closed down.

How 27,000 School Cafeterias Escaped Adequate Inspections

According to data from the U.S Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, almost 7,500 children became victims of the norovirus between 1998 and 2007. Norovirus was implicated in another 2,000 school sicknesses between these years, although investigators could not definitively determine a cause. Thousands of cases go unreported each year since trusting parents often fail to realize that school lunches are at the heart of the problem.

Despite widespread outbreaks of norovirus in school cafeterias, almost 27,000 schools failed to have their preparation areas inspected last year as mandated by the Child Nutrition Act. Startlingly, some 8,500-school kitchens were not inspected at all last year, and over 18,000 were only inspected once instead of twice, as reported by USA Today.

The purpose of such inspections is to ensure that food preparers comply with health and safety regulations; these regulations span from wearing gloves during food preparation to staying home while sick to avoid the contamination of school meals.

Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack explains the Child Nutrition Act.

Serious illnesses have resulted from lax hygiene policies and schools failing to meet USDA standards. In one case, a student in Polk County, NC required emergency room procedures after drinking sweet tea laced with salmonella in the school cafeteria. The culprit was a dirty urn. In another case, almost 30 elementary school students in Beaver County, PA were stricken with stomach problems after consuming undercooked chicken.

Although increasing percentages of schools are meeting the minimum quality standards for school lunches each year, there is little doubt that more needs to be done. Some parents are lobbying official agencies, while other parents are cautiously sending their children to school with “safer” packed lunches.

Questions? Contact us on Facebook. @publicschoolreview

Additional Resources [+]
comments powered by Disqus

Recent Articles

Busing and Desegregation: Understanding the Link
Busing and Desegregation: Understanding the Link
What happens when a school district stops busing students? Could segregation once again be a reality for public school districts? Wake County in North Carolina is testing the segregation waters with its decision to stop busing students in their district.
Surveillance Cameras: Violation of Rights or Improved Security?
Surveillance Cameras: Violation of Rights or Improved Security?
A school district in Virginia has given the green light to schools that want to install surveillance cameras in common areas like cafeterias and hallways. We’ll look at whether this is a violation of student privacy or the best way to keep order in schools.
Teaching in Contemporary Times
March 04, 2024
Teaching in Contemporary Times
We explore why individuals choose teaching, illuminating intrinsic motivations, the influence of role models, the pursuit of lifelong learning, and the aspiration to impact society.

About Public Schools

Cell Phones in Class? Many Schools are Saying Yes
Cell Phones in Class? Many Schools are Saying Yes
The Pros and Cons of Mandatory Gym Class in Public Schools
The Pros and Cons of Mandatory Gym Class in Public Schools
What are the Benefits of Public School Over Homeschooling?
What are the Benefits of Public School Over Homeschooling?
More Articles
Read more articles (65)
HEALTH AND NUTRITION AT SCHOOL
From vending machines to Jamie Oliver, bed bugs to tuberculosis, we provide an in-depth look at health and wellness in public schools. Help your kids stay healthy on campus and learn about current health epidemics, vaccination requirements, physical fitness programs and the latest food initiatives.
How Diet and Nutrition Impact a Child's Learning Ability
How Diet and Nutrition Impact a Child's Learning Ability
Why Fast Food is “Healthier” Than School Lunches: The Shocking USDA Truth
Why Fast Food is “Healthier” Than School Lunches: The Shocking USDA Truth
Physical Education Reform in Public Schools
Physical Education Reform in Public Schools
More Articles
Read more articles (19)