SafeFood© in our Schools

Back to School time is here (insert your own exclamation point if that makes you happy). And with that comes the question of sack lunch or school lunch. Don’t let myth-perception that sack lunches are safer fool you. Actually, schools are one of the safest places to eat food prepared away from home – just check out CDC’s record of where outbreaks occur.

Why are school foods so safe? One reason is the dedicated staff – I have yet to meet a person working in child nutrition programs who does not have the kids’ welfare front and center (and I have inter-acted with a LOT of these folks across the nation). Check out the School Nutrition Association webpage if you want evidence of the dedication. (Yes, I am a member – full disclosure).

Another reason is that, three years ago, school districts were charged to develop and implement a food safety plan based on HACCP principles. HACCP is an internally driven approach to food safety – the food service setting identifies possible risks or hazards that might exist, and then puts into place procedures to mitigate these risks. HACCP is about documentation and ownership by all employees. So, if all employees are knowledgeable about the safe way to handle foods and have to document that these practices are followed – then knowledge can translate into practice.

Believe me, I am usually NOT a fan of increased government regulations. While we still can’t regulate morality or outlaw people acting stupidly, having someone “have to” do something can only increase odds it will get done – so safe food handling is practiced more frequently.
In the spirit of back to school welcome – let those working in your district’s child nutrition programs know you appreciate their efforts to keep your child healthy and well-fed. If you have questions – talk with them directly. Our nation’s lunch ladies and gentlemen do a tough job every day – your support is appreciated.



Catherine Hemphill Strohbehn has been a faculty member at Iowa State University in the Hospitality Management Program for 30 years. She is a State Specialist with Human Sciences Extension and Outreach at Iowa State University. As part of her work, she conducts research, develops educational materials and provides programs to help retail foodservices use their resources effectively and ensure safe food is served. Cathy is a registered dietitian with the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics and a Certified Professional in Food Safety from the National Environmental Health Association.

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