Why Is Crappy Fast Food Safer Than School Lunches?

Thanks to the USDA, at school our kids are eating the equivalent of pet food.

A study by USA Today found that the U.S. government's school lunch program, via the USDA, handed schools millions of pounds of beef and chicken that wouldn't even clear the standards of of fast food restaurants like Jack in the Box and KFC.

The quality of meat in fast food restaurants has always frightened me, but not as much as reading this:

McDonald's, Burger King and Costco, for instance, are far more rigorous in checking for bacteria and dangerous pathogens. They test the ground beef they buy five to 10 times more often than the USDA tests beef made for schools during a typical production day.

And the limits Jack in the Box and other big retailers set for certain bacteria in their burgers are up to 10 times more stringent than what the USDA sets for school beef.

For chicken, the USDA has supplied schools with thousands of tons of meat from old birds that might otherwise go to compost or pet food. Called "spent hens" because they're past their egg-laying prime, the chickens don't pass muster with Colonel Sanders-- KFC won't buy them -- and they don't pass the soup test, either. The Campbell Soup Company says it stopped using them a decade ago based on "quality considerations."

So, our kids are eating food that's about the equivalent of pet food. And a whole lot of kids. The article notes that 31 million students a day eat this meat and "President Obama noted earlier this year that, for many children, school lunches are 'their most nutritious meal -- sometimes their only meal -- of the day,'" which is also frightening.

And it gets worse.

Tara Lohan is a senior editor at AlterNet.
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