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Published in Print: May 31, 2000, as USDA Goes to the Source To Test Latest Menu Creations

USDA Goes to the Source To Test Latest Menu Creations

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To find out whether their new food products would be popular in schools, the U.S. Department of Agriculture last week went straight to its No. 1 customers: schoolchildren.

About 30 students here at Van Ness Elementary School took time from their busy end-of-the-school-year schedules to act as taste-testers for the USDA'S Agriculture Marketing Service. The foray marks the first time the agency has tried taste tests with students.

Students sampled burgers made with cherries, fig barbecue sauce, pizza topped with tomato and plum-puree sauce, guacamole made with broccoli and asparagus, frozen peach cups, and trail mix. Most of the products received student approval, but the marketing service may have to go back to the drawing board for one or two.

"The sauce doesn't taste like anything related to barbecue," declared Irvin Scott, a 6th grader.

That kind of tough, but honest, criticism was just what the Agriculture Department was looking for, according to George Chartier, a spokesman for the USDA's marketing service.

The department spends millions each year on its national school lunch program, and it makes purchases on a regular basis to help schools fulfill nutrition and dietary guidelines. The Agriculture Marketing Service also uses its commodity-procurement programs to buy food products, particularly when surpluses exist, to help provide stable markets for farmers. The school lunch and breakfast programs are the biggest recipients of those purchases.

"We're making an extra effort to get more fruit and vegetables in the diet of children, as well as help out industry," said Mr. Chartier.

—Adrienne D. Coles

Vol. 19, Issue 38, Page 24

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