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SALT LAKE CITY -- Utah school lunch program administrators are defending the USDA, after a scathing USA Today investigation found that over the last three years the government sent schools millions of pounds of meat that wouldn't have met standards at many fast food restaurants.
Among the findings in the report:
- Jack in the Box and other big retailers have up to 10 times more stringent limits on bacteria detected in burgers than what the USDA establishes for school lunch beef.
- The USDA shipped thousands of tons of "spent hens," which might have otherwise gone to pet food or compost.
- Workers with the Agriculture Marketing Service (AMS), the USDA agency that buys meat for the school lunch program, sample ground beef along production lines 8 times a day for contamination. Fast food and more "selective" buyers take samples every 15 minutes.
State child nutrition program director Luann Shipley says the report is misleading and suggests some facts were taken out of context.
"The meat sent to schools remains more stringent than the department's minimum standards required for meat sold in supermarkets," Shipley says. "It's a very high quality."
At Washington Elementary School in Salt Lake City, school lunch ladies told KSL Newsradio Wednesday they have never seen problems with USDA products.
"They have a zero-tolerance for even the smallest amount of salmonella or E. coli," Shipley says. "There is a strict level of care given to all foods, and we meet or exceed that in all of our buying practices."
Shipley says she hadn't heard the term "spent hens" before reading it in the report. It refers to egg-laying chickens that are no longer able to produce eggs.
"I think it's a little bit like buying a fryer or a boiler: there are different things you do with different chickens," Shipley says. "Colonel Sanders wouldn't buy a spent hen because it's an egg-laying hen -- not that there's anything wrong with that hen, and not that it isn't good meat, but it wouldn't be your best fried chicken."
For more on USA Today's findings, CLICK HERE.