The pilot program’s goal is to strengthen awareness of food safety and protect children from food-borne illnesses. Pilot schools will implement a comprehensive program, which includes personal hygiene and food handling practices for students and school staff. The program will also measure schools’ capacity to address food safety issues and respond to food-borne illnesses. In-service training will be offered for school food service personnel, school nurses and teachers, as well as education for students, parents and the community.
“Across the nation, food safety is a serious concern, especially for children,” said Dr. David Stewart, State Superintendent of Schools. “This is an exciting opportunity for West Virginia schools to lead the development of state and local policies and practices to strengthen food safety education.”
Recently, public schools across the country have been under fire for the number of reported food-borne illnesses. West Virginia schools routinely receive high food safety scores according to West Virginia Bureau for Public Health statistics. During the current school year, reports show no documented outbreaks of any type of food-borne illness in more than 30 million school meals served to West Virginia students.
“Providing wholesome, safe and nutritious food to students has always been and remains a high priority for West Virginia schools,” explains Mary Kay Harrison, Executive Director of the Office of Child Nutrition. “In recent years, the Department of Education has provided extensive food safety training to nearly every school food service employee. The CDC pilot program enables us to join with many partners in expanding our efforts to include school staff, student and parents.”
Local and state authorities routinely inspect food service areas in West Virginia schools. State code requires local boards of health to conduct inspections in each school at least twice yearly. The West Virginia Department of Agriculture also performs annual inspections of schools and food storage areas. The Department of Education also has in place a response system that immediately notifies schools when U.S. Department of Agriculture food recall alerts are issued to the nation.
The CDC, the state health department and others have been working for years to improve detection of food-borne disease outbreaks. With improved surveillance, regular inspections and safe food handling practiced by food service employees, school staff, students and families, assurances of safe food for West Virginia students are in place.