Another Potential Problem With School Lunches

Although federal regulations require lunchroom operations be inspected at least two times a year by local authorities, more than half of schools failed to meet the mandate.
August 31 2010, 1:24 PM

Over the summer, longtime school cafeteria workers from Denver Public Schools took lessons in cooking from scratch, part of a get-healthy campaign that aims to help lower high obesity rates among children. While those efforts continue, there's no guarantee school lunches are actually safe.

Although federal regulations require lunchroom operations be inspected at least two times a year by local authorities, more than half of schools failed to meet the mandate, reports Education News Colorado. Many aren't inspected even once annually, placing Colorado among the worst states for health inspections in a system that has no penalties for the laggards.

So far, schools seem to be doing a good job policing themselves—or are just lucky. The last time a major food-related illness was traced to a school lunchroom was in 2000, when about 50 students at an Adams County elementary school contracted shigella after consuming bad gelatin. The potential for problems, however, could increase precisely because schools are trying to obtain healthier food for students, as cooking from raw ingredients increases the risk of contamination.

Still, locally and elsewhere in the nation, a quiet food revolution is taking root thanks to the efforts of people like Ann Cooper and campaigns like Michelle Obama's Chefs Move to Schools. And in a recent editorial, The Houston Chronicle rails against "mystery meat, mashed potatoes made from powder, and canned fruit salad with glowing red cherries," expressing relief at seeing the glop finally starting to go the way of the cassette tape.