USDA Finalizes Ground Beef Standards for School Lunch and Nutrition Programs

WASHINGTON,  -- Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack today announced that USDA has finalized tougher new standards for ground beef purchased by the Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS) for Federal food and nutrition assistance programs including the National School Lunch Program.

"It is one of my highest priorities to ensure that food provided to the National School Lunch Program and other nutrition programs is as safe and nutritious as possible," Vilsack said. "The new standards guarantee our purchases are in line with major private-sector buyers of ground beef. We will continue to apply the best scientific knowledge to increase the safety across the board of our nutritional programs."

Vilsack announced a series of initiatives in February to improve the safety of food purchased for nutrition assistance programs. The final standards are the result of a detailed, ongoing review by USDA's Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) and Agricultural Research Service (ARS).

The new requirements will be applicable to AMS ground beef contracts awarded on or after July 1, 2010. The AMS released a draft of the plan in May with a request for comments. Based upon comments and data submitted by the Department of Agriculture's FSIS and ARS and members of the general public, revisions were made to the final specification that will be used for purchases beginning in July 2010.

In addition to continuing a zero tolerance for E. coli O157:H7 and Salmonella, the new AMS standards: (1) tighten microbiological testing protocols; (2) tighten the microbiological upper specification and critical limits; (3) increase microbiological sampling frequency for finished products to every 15 minutes; and, (4) institute additional rejection criteria for source trimmings used to manufacture AMS purchased ground beef. AMS will also consider any vendor classified by FSIS as having a long term poor safety record as an ineligible vendor until a complete cause-and-effect analysis is completed.

The new purchasing requirements can be found in their entirety at: http://www.ams.usda.gov/AMSv1.0/getfile?dDocName=STELPRDC5085021.

For more information visit the USDA website.