CLEMSON — Mystery meat is on many school menus but there should be no mystery about how it’s cooked. A Clemson University food-safety expert is working with state and local school leaders to standardize cafeteria food handling, cooking and storage statewide.

Federal guidelines require the states to put into place food-safety plans in all schools. The plans must follow Hazard Analysis Critical Control Points — HAACP plan — guidelines. Angela Fraser, a food-safety expert in the College of Agriculture, Forestry and Life Sciences at Clemson, is developing a plan with the S.C. Department of Education Child Nutrition program. The goal is for every school in the state to have a manual detailing how to prevent food illnesses in the lunch lines.

“Every school will have a HACCP plan that is written down and includes food-safety standards for each menu item in easy-to-understand procedures that meet the standards,” said Fraser. “All of the school food-service workers in South Carolina will need to understand and follow the plans.”

Cafeteria cooks won’t need to follow the same recipe for flavor, but they will for safety. A ground beef patty cooked in Charleston should be cooked at the same temperature as one cooked in Greenville.

“We are working to standardize food-safety practices,” said Fraser. “This would help a lot with making inspections by the health department or Department of Education uniform. With standards and procedures the same all schools would be evaluated according to following the same procedures. Food should be handled and cooked to the same standards whether its in Horry or Occonee County.”

Fraser has been visiting school districts, meeting with child-nutrition supervisors and cafeteria workers. Local input is vital to creating procedures that will be followed in real world of having to feed hordes of hungry kids, sometimes breakfast as well as lunch, and do it on a tight budget.

Oconee County has been working with Fraser, who says she has learned a lot about life from the serving side of the lunch line.

“Sometimes it’s a challenge to make the guidelines practical and understandable,” said Fraser. “The primary focus is to get a meal out for the kids. What the public doesn’t know is that it’s a significantly underfunded program. Child Nutrition has to generate its own revenues from meals and federal subsidies. The program doesn’t get much money from the state. Schools have to stretch their food dollar, using leftovers when it’s safe and appropriate.”

Local districts do not have to pay for Fraser’s help. As a Clemson University Cooperative Extension Service associate, Fraser offers her expertise as a service to improve the lives of South Carolinians.

Fraser has a Web site for school HACCP planning and responds to questions from school cafeteria supervisors and workers.