USDA toughens guidelines for ground beef purchases

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Companies that sell ground beef used in federal food and nutrition programs, including school lunches, will need to meet tougher food safety guidelines beginning this summer, the U.S. Agriculture Department said on Friday.

USDA said ground beef purchased by the USDA’s Agricultural Marketing Service will now be subjected to more frequent testing and it will ban the use of certain trimmings.

“AMS will also consider any vendor classified by (USDA’s Food Safety Inspection Service) as having a long-term poor safety record as an ineligible vendor until a complete cause-and-effect analysis is completed,” USDA said in a statement.

The new requirements will be applicable to ground beef contracts awarded on or after July 1, 2010. They are part of a range of initiatives announced in February to improve the safety of food purchased for school lunch and nutrition assistance programs.

Overall, the government spends $17 billon a year on child nutrition, chiefly school lunches.

Nearly 32 million children are fed daily through the school lunch program and about 11 million pupils are in the school breakfast program. Some 63 percent of the meals are free or available at a low price.

USDA said earlier this year the National Academy of Sciences was reviewing its ground beef purchases.

Editing by Alden Bentley