Reports out of Washington indicate Rep. Joe Sestak (D-Penn.) will introduce new legislation aimed at improving the safety of food served under USDA's National School Lunch Program. It will serve as a companion bill to legislation already introduced by Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.)

An announced candidate for a U.S. Senate seat, Sestak, said his bill seeks to improve how federal agencies communicate with schools during recalls, and to improve food-testing standards.

Sestak cites a recent report by the Government Accountability Office showing federal agencies are not properly communicating recalls to schools. He also cited USA Today articles, that reported USDA isn't meeting industry food safety standards.

In a news release, Sestak stated that combined with Gillibrand's Senate bill, the legislation "would ensure proper food testing, resolve communication issues regarding product holds and recalls, and implement a systemic quality check of the measures' effectiveness."

"Parents should not have to worry about the food their children are served at school," Sestak said. "But today, because of poor communication and testing that would not be acceptable for any restaurant, our children's safety is at risk. We need to do more to protect our children's health."

The proposed House bill would direct USDA to:

  • Study private industry food-safety standards, implement testing and other safety procedures in line with private standards.
  • Develop guidelines in consultations with Agricultural Marketing Service and Farm Service Agency to help determine whether to institute an administrative hold on suspect commodities for school meal programs.
  • Work with states to explore ways for states to speed notification to schools.
  • Improve timelines and completeness of direct communication between FNS and schools about holds and recalls, such as through the commodity alert system.
  • Establish a time frame in which it will improve USDA's commodity hold and recall procedures to address the role of processors and determine distributors' involvement with processed products, which may contain recalled ingredients, to provide faster and more comprehensive information to schools.
  • Provide states with more specific instructions for schools to dispose of recalled commodities and obtain timely reimbursements.
  • Institute a systematic quality-check procedure to ensure that FNS holds on foods and products used by schools are carried out effectively.
  • Direct the Food Service Inspection Service to revise its procedures to ensure that schools are included in effectiveness checks.