Ask any kid what they think of their school cafeteria. Then ask the scientists at the Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI). The answers are likely to be similar.
A report issued by the CSPI warns that conditions in America’s school cafeterias could trigger potentially disastrous outbreaks of food poisoning at any time. Hartford, Conn., received the lowest score of all the systems studied.
CSPI’s Outbreak Alert database has documented more than 11,000 cases of foodborne illnesses associated with schools between 1990 and 2004. Just one outbreak can have devastating consequences on the health of students, productivity in the classroom, and even on school district’s finances.
To protect school children from food poisoning, CSPI recommends the following measures:
• State and local governments should adopt up-to-date safety standards and receive adequate funding to ensure compliance with federal inspection regulations outlined in the Child Nutrition and WIC Reauthorization Act of 2004.
• Schools should request timely inspections, employ certified food handlers, and use the best food safety procedures.
• Parents should monitor conditions in their child’s cafeteria and advocate for optimal food safety policies.
Marler Clark represented 35 students and teachers who suffered food poisoning after eating ammonia-tainted chicken in a school lunch served at Laraway Elementary School in Joliet, Illinois, in 2002.
Hundreds of children and teachers ate the lunch of chicken tenders which were contaminated with ammonia up to 133 times the level considered acceptable for human consumption. Investigators learned that the chicken had been contaminated by an ammonia leak at Gateway Cold Storage in St. Louis, Missouri. Once discovered, the plant planned to throw out the tainted food, but instead hundreds of cases of chicken were fumigated and repackaged and shipped to schools.
In a rare criminal follow-up, state authorities indicted two Illinois Board of Education members and an operations manager of a food distribution warehouse.
In 2001, Marler Clark won a record $4.6 million judgment on behalf of 11 children sickened by E. coli O157:H7 in undercooked taco meat served at a school lunch at Finley Elementary School in southeast Washington State. The jury award was subsequently upheld, and the state Supreme Court declined to review that decision.
A jury agreed with state Health Department investigators who concluded that the E. coli infections came from hamburger meat that had been frozen, then inadequately thawed and cooked for the school lunches. Most of the award went to a young girl, then just 2 years old, who didn’t eat the meal but was later infected by one of the older victims. The youngster underwent kidney dialysis and is expected to have lifelong aftereffects from the E. coli toxins.