School food poisonings increase

Posted: Wednesday, May 01, 2002

WASHINGTON -- Food poisonings in the nation's schools are increasing at a rate of about 10 percent a year, according to a congressional study released Tuesday

The General Accounting Office says that federal government should disclose its inspection records on food plants to the state and local agencies that buy food for schools.

Outbreaks have been traced to a variety of products, from strawberries to hamburgers.

In 1999, the latest year for which data are available, there were 50 school-related outbreaks reported nationwide with 2,900 illnesses, GAO said.

Officials don't know how many outbreaks were caused by lunches served in cafeterias as opposed to food kids brought from home, but it is believed that school-provided meals were the culprit in a majority of cases.

Of those outbreaks with a known cause, most were linked to salmonella bacteria and Norwalk-like viruses.

The Agriculture Department heavily subsidizes school lunches and buys some of the food, while state and local agencies purchase the rest. USDA ''provides little guidance'' to those agencies to ensure that the food they are buying is safe, GAO said.

Nationwide, food poisonings have been on the decline.

Preliminary data released by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention earlier in April showed substantial drops in the rates of illness from six of seven major types of food-borne bacteria from 1996 to 2001.

The rate of E. coli illnesses fell 21 percent, salmonella 15 percent and listeria 35 percent.

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