Protecting School Lunches from Bioterror in Iowa

June 20, 2005
From simple security procedure to surveillance cameras, Iowa gets serious about its food

DES MOINES, Iowa (AP) _ School officials throughout Iowa are being encouraged to find ways to protect school lunches from the threat of bioterrorism.

That means locking up food, keeping strangers out of food service areas, maintaining inventories and even installing security cameras in food service areas.

Federal agriculture officials have suggested the steps and part of follow up risk assessment since the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.

Sam Beattie, Iowa State University Extension food safety specialist, said most parents can feel fairly confident in the security of the food supply.

''We've not identified ever a specific risk to the school lunch program. We're just being sure to take proper precautionary steps,'' Beattie said.

However, there are areas for improvement.

''Imagine the outrage factor. This is a population we hold near and dear to our hearts. The vulnerability is definitely there,'' he said.

Recent programs offered over the Iowa Communications Network addressed school food safety issues for the first time in Iowa, he said, adding that officials said subtle changes will be made as a result of the program.

Most schools already protect food, securing storage and preparation areas and having those areas inspected annually by experts. Many schools also limit the food students can share with classmates, experts said.

Cari Kersey, a West Des Moines parent, said her kids sometimes take their lunch to school. Food security is not at the top of her list of concerns, she said.

''You're always worried about everything as far as your kids go, but it's not something I've really thought about,'' Kersey said.

In Des Moines, staff will get more training and officials will reassess how locks and other security measures are being used, said Teresa Nece, Des Moines schools' food services director.

The U.S. Department of Homeland Security, the U.S. Department of Inspections and Appeals, the Iowa Department of Education and ISU Extension co-sponsored the recent program for school officials.

Ann Garvey, agriculture specialist with the Iowa Department of Homeland Security, said although there's no specific threat data, federal officials think overall food security is a serious concern.