Are Big Macs Safer Than School Food?

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That pesky newspaper USA Today has done it again. Its latest exposé on food safety points out that USDA rules for meat are more stringent for fast food than they are for school lunches and that fast food companies do a much better job of producing safe meat.

The reporters say, for example, that the schools use "old-hen" meat, whereas fast food places do not.  But things are getting better. The USDA used to buy 30 percent of all the old-hen meat available, but now only buys 10 percent.

The article elicited an immediate response from the USDA. An official wrote USA Today that USDA's standards for meat sent to schools have been "extremely successful in protecting against food-borne pathogens...inspections and tests of that meat exceed those required for meat sold to the general public." That, alas, is not what these articles suggest.

While Congress is dithering over the FDA's rules for food safety, it ought to be looking at USDA's also. At the moment, USDA has better rules than FDA but doesn't always bother to enforce them.

Congress: get busy! Better yet, how about considering a complete overhaul and creating ONE food safety agency!

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Marion Nestle is a professor in the Department of Nutrition, Food Studies, and Public Health at New York University. She is the author of Food Politics, Safe Food, What to Eat, and Pet Food Politics. More

Nestle also holds appointments as Professor of Sociology at NYU and Visiting Professor of Nutritional Sciences at Cornell. She is the author of three prize-winning books: Food Politics: How the Food Industry Influences Nutrition and Health (revised edition, 2007), Safe Food: The Politics of Food Safety (2003), and What to Eat (2006). Her most recent book is Feed Your Pet Right: The Authoritative Guide to Feeding Your Dog and Cat. She writes the Food Matters column for The San Francisco Chronicle and blogs almost daily at Food Politics.

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