School cafeteria lunches have been the brunt of jokes since we were all in elementary school — tater tots, milk boxes and mystery meat patties were the mainstays of high school meals if you weren’t brown-bagging it.
For the moment, it’s time to take those jokes a lot more seriously.
We trust that if we send our kids off to school with some money for a hot lunch, that while it may not be as nutritious as something we’d cook at home, that a school lunch isn’t going to give them E. coli poisoning. Or mad cow disease. Or salmonella poisoning. This week, a large California meat packing company recalled close to 150 million pounds of beef after an undercover video was disclosed showing sick and downed cows being dragged to the slaughterhouse.
The bad news is that the video was taken several years ago and most of the meat has already been consumed.
The worse news is that much of that beef was used in our school lunch programs.
Thankfully, no illnesses have been reported, though there could be beef still lingering in school freezers.
As bad as the actions of the meat packing plant are, where has the USDA been?? Sure, they prompted the recall, but what have the regulators been doing to make sure that the food that our kids are eating is safe? Isn’t that why we have federal food inspectors? According to news reports, the packing plant, Hallmark/Westland Beef Packing Co., is a major supplier of beef to schools around the country. I’ve already read a few stories indicating that some of the beef went to schools in Maryland and Nevada. Not exactly next door neighbors. So it’s probably safe to assume that every state was a potential destination for the beef.
The USDA is trying to calm us all by claiming that there is nothing to worry about. Your food is safe. Nothing to see here. Keep walking, please.
But isn’t that what they tell us whenever we hear a story like this? It seems like the only thing we can do to keep our families safe is to take matters into our own hands. Short of opening up your own butcher shop, what can a family do?
Aside from eating less meat, one person suggested to me that I look for kosher meats. Or, as I try to do, find a local farmer who raises beef. I’m lucky — my dad falls into that category, so I know that there are no sick or diseased cows being taken to his local butcher to turn into ground beef.
For many families, though, these aren’t even options. If you live in a metropolitan area or in a part of the country without a significant Jewish population, you have to rely on what’s sitting on the shelves in your closest grocery store.
I’d like to think that our health and safety are of primary importance to the government. But I guess when the government is too busy trying to scrounge up more money for the war in Iraq, it’s hard to focus on keeping our food safe here ate home.
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