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What's in that Mystery Meat? School Lunch Standards Fall Short

For many children across the country, school lunch is the most nutritious, maybe even the only, balanced meal of the day. Eating low-quality meat can have consequences, especially for children who are still growing and developing. Although the government has a zero-tolerance policy for any meats that test positive for E. coli or salmonella, some worry that cafeteria workers won't cook the meat well enough to kill off other dangerous pathogens or bacteria that may have made it through the not-so-strict inspection process. Younger, elementary school-aged kids may not have fully developed immune systems capable of fighting off these pathogens, and therefore might be more vulnerable to food-borne illnesses.

Healthy Solutions
So what do we do about it? Advocates for healthier school lunches are pushing the USDA to adopt the same policies fast food restaurants have regarding the quality of meat schools serve up to students. Not only would the zero-tolerance policy for dangerous bacteria remain, but more testing and tighter limits for "indicator" pathogens would be put in place. This will hopefully happen in September 2010, when the Child Nutrition Act - the legislation that determines school food policy - is set for reauthorization.

You can help encourage the change in the legislation for the Child Nutrition Act by writing to your state senator and visiting the School Nutrition Association for more information. In the meantime, make sure your child is getting a nutritious lunch by making healthy, portable meals at home. Brown bag lunches can be affordable and delicious, and you'll rest easy knowing exactly what your child is eating when he is at school. If your child is going to be eating a school lunch, arm him with the knowledge he needs to make the healthiest choices possible.


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