USDA Releases Irradiated
Beef Specs For School Lunches


USDA News Release
Release No. 0172.03
Jean Daniel (703) 305-2286
Martha Abrams (202) 720-4623
Provides Education Recommendations for Local School Districts
    WASHINGTON, May 29, 2003 - The U.S. Department of Agriculture today released specifications for the purchase of irradiated ground beef for donation through the National School Lunch Program. The product will be available for schools to order in January 2004.
    The 2002 Farm Bill directs USDA to not prohibit the use of approved food safety technologies on foods purchased for the National School Lunch Program. The law's report language also indicates that USDA should consider "the acceptability by recipients of products purchased" by USDA for commodity distribution. Therefore, before irradiated beef is made available for order by schools in January 2004, USDA will provide balanced consumer education materials to all school districts to use in educating parents, students and the community in their decision to order the product. The decision to order and serve irradiated ground beef will be made by local school districts.
    "Each school district will have the option to choose between irradiated and non-irradiated ground beef products and will decide how to notify parents and students if they choose to offer them," said Under Secretary for Food, Nutrition and Consumer Services Eric Bost. "While USDA does not have the authority to require that schools inform parents and students about whether or not the district will be ordering irradiated beef, USDA is strongly encouraging schools to provide information to students, teachers, food service personnel, school administrators, parents and caregivers as part of the decision-making process."
    USDA's Food and Nutrition Service will provide all school districts with an informational package to prepare them to decide whether to order irradiated beef products. The package will be mailed in June 2003 and will include a letter from Under Secretary Bost strongly encouraging schools to notify parents, students and the community if they are planning to order irradiated beef. In addition, the package will include a brochure with answers to commonly asked questions about irradiation. This letter will also include web-site addresses for the brochure as well as the site for the Food and Drug Administration irradiation consumer information. The letter will give information regarding the community educational materials currently under development by the State of Minnesota that will be available to schools in Fall 2003.
    On May 1, 2003, USDA announced specification for all ground beef items purchased for the National School Lunch Program that added new process and testing requirements throughout the manufacturing process. "USDA's Agricultural Marketing Service will utilize test results to measure the performance of processing systems producing raw and finished ground beef products for purchase by USDA," said Under Secretary for Marketing and Regulatory Programs Bill Hawks. "Both irradiated and non-irradiated ground beef products will be subject to these new requirements."
    "Protecting the public from foodborne illnesses is a priority for USDA," said Under Secretary for Food Safety Elsa Murano. "Irradiation technology is another tool to enhance food safety. It is important to remember, however, that this technology is not a substitute for proper hygiene, good sanitation and safe handling and preparation practices in the processing plant and school cafeterias."
In 1997, the Food and Drug Administration approved irradiation of raw meat and poultry products after a thorough scientific review of a substantial number of studies conducted worldwide on the effects of irradiation on a wide variety of products. The studies included examination of the chemical effects of irradiation on food, impact on nutrient content of irradiated products, potential toxicity concerns and effects on microorganisms in or on irradiated products. FDA concluded that irradiation is safe in reducing disease-causing microbes and that it does not compromise the nutritional quality of treated products. USDA's Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) approved its use in raw meat and poultry in 1999. Food irradiation has been approved in 37 countries for more than 40 food products. The United Nation's World Health Organization, Codex Alimentarius Commission, American Medical Association and many others have endorsed the process.
FSIS inspects all meat and poultry products, including those that are irradiated. Additionally, FSIS conducts microbial testing to be sure plants are producing wholesome products. Only FSIS federally-inspected establishments and state-inspected facilities that meet the same requirements specified in the federal regulations are able to irradiate meat.
Meat and poultry establishments that use irradiation must meet sanitation and Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Point (HACCP) regulations. Additionally, FSIS conducts microbial testing to be sure plants are producing wholesome products.
For information on the National School Lunch Program, visit More details on irradiation can be found at and the new ground beef specifications with irradiation included is available at



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