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GAO: Feds failed to tell schools of suspect food

By Libby Quaid, AP | Google News

WASHINGTON — Federal authorities failed to tell schools about recalls of potentially tainted peanut products and canned vegetables, and cafeterias may have unknowingly served them to children, the Government Accountability Office reported Tuesday.

A GAO investigation found the Agriculture Department didn't always make sure states and schools were notified promptly about recalled food distributed through the federal school lunch and breakfast programs, which serve 30 million students.

GAO reported Tuesday that it took as long as a week for states to figure out which products were recalled, and that schools may have served the suspect food to kids during that time.

"This report underscores the need for comprehensive reform of our food safety structures," Democratic Sen. Dick Durbin of Illinois said in a statement. "The 30 million students in the national school lunch program, their parents, and the country at large, deserve to know that the food they eat is safe and free of contaminants."

In a written response, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said safety is of "utmost importance" and his department is working to build a better food safety system. And the Food and Drug Administration said it, too, was taking steps to ensure schools will be notified.

At issue are two recalls in the past two years.

One involved Peanut Corp. of America products made in Georgia and linked to nine deaths and more than 700 illnesses from salmonella. The other, the largest beef recall in U.S. history, involved the abuse of sick and injured cattle at Westland/Hallmark Meat Co. in Chino, Calif. The abuse was revealed in an undercover video by the Humane Society of the United States.

Democratic Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand of New York on Tuesday introduced legislation in response to the report.

"Food items that are being pulled from grocery store shelves across the country are still being served to millions of school children," Gillibrand said in a statement. "It's wrong, it's dangerous, and we need to take action."

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