Legislation for Safe and Timely Meat Recalls and Better Public Communication on Food Issues Introduced By U.S. Senator Robert Menendez

Legislation for Safe and Timely Meat Recalls and Better Public Communication on Food Issues Introduced By U.S. Senator Robert Menendez

Bill gives the USDA the authority to impose mandatory meat recalls, improves School Lunch Program communications system

Washington -U.S. Senator Robert Menendez (D-NJ) has introduced The Safe School Lunch Act, a bill to help avoid a repeat of the food safety scare that parents, children, superintendents, school employees, and food service personnel throughout the country, including 170 New Jersey school districts, recently had to endure when they found out that millions of students could have ingested possibly tainted beef. U.S. Senator Frank Lautenberg (D-NJ) is an original co-sponsor of the bill.

"Having your children get sick from eating unsafe meat in their school cafeterias is the last thing families need to worry about," said Sen. Menendez. "Our system for food safety is broken and this bill would empower the USDA to fix it. It would make sure they are better equipped to stop the distribution of meat products that are unsafe and that there is better communication with school officials and parents."

Currently, the USDA has no authority to impose mandatory meat recalls and relies on the industry to participate in voluntary recalls. In addition, the federal agency does not keep records tracing the trade of meat from the slaughterhouse, through product processing, to distribution and to schools themselves. Without these records, the USDA cannot quickly and effectively communicate to schools in a timely manner and avoid food poisoning among students. Senator Menendez's legislation will address these concerns.

"With the massive meat recall earlier this year, it took almost 3 weeks for the plant to voluntarily recall the meat," said Senator Menendez. "It took a full 3 days after the recall for schools to be given proper instructions as to what to do with the beef. Many children ingested the meat, and thankfully no one became ill, but this is why we need to take a first step toward ensure this never happens again. Students could have been sickened by e-coli or salmonella - life-threatening illnesses that could have turned a scare into a tragedy."

The Safe School Lunch Act

• Gives the Secretary of Agriculture authority to immediately cease distribution and/or order a recall of meat, meat products, poultry, or poultry products if the Secretary finds the products may cause serious, adverse health consequences or may be adulterated. Currently, the USDA has no mandatory recall authority and must depend on the industry's voluntary compliance with recall requests from the agency.

• Requires the USDA to improve the recall procedure in relation to the National School Lunch Program. The USDA will provide the schools with better information and more training regarding the following: any meat, meat products, poultry, or poultry products recalls or recall procedures, disposal of meat, meat products, poultry, or poultry products that have been recalled, and informing parents of a recall in a timely manner.

• The USDA will also be required to establish an information clearinghouse on the internet and ensure that any information is up-to-date and written in a clear manner that is accessible by school employees and parents.

• Within 180 days, the USDA will also promulgate regulations that ensure the agency can track all meat, meat products, poultry, or poultry products from the slaughter premises through to final distribution to the schools.

• Requires USDA to formulate and initiate a Food Protection Plan. The USDA would be required evaluate and review its own inspection and recall procedures for optimal consumer safety and report back to the Committee on Agriculture of the House of Representatives and the Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition, and Forestry of the Senate within 180 days.

In letters to the USDA, Senator Menendez has called for:

• The USDA to immediately explain serious flaws in the current recall procedure.
• The USDA to finalize its proposed rulemaking on making public all retailers who have sold recalled meat. Currently this information is treated as a trade secret, which denies consumers valuable food safety information.
• USDA to quickly fill all inspector vacancies.

Senator Menendez has also:

• Called on the Farm Bill Conference Committee retain language requiring the Food Safety and Inspection Service to maintain a registry of reportable food events.
• Cosponsored The Downed Animal and Food Safety Protection Act, which requires a comprehensive ban on the slaughter of downed animals for human consumption.