Over the weekend, the NYT ran an article detailing how food service companies profit from school lunches. In case you didn’t know, lunch ladies no longer have the ability to torment children by serving them Army meat made from old draught horses prepare foods on-site using fresh ingredients. Your kids’ food is probably made by Sodexo or some other food service giant.

The stock media response to obesity is to blame evil corporations for poisoning children in order to make money, and the Times article stays true to form. Entertain the possibility, however, that out-sourcing school lunch is an amoral, rational response to the legal obligations imposed on food processors by the doctrine of strict liability. In food law, strict liability is the imposition of civil liability for harm caused by food products without regard to negligence. So no matter how careful you are in the food business, no matter how many times you checked the temperature or cleaned your work surface, if you make someone sick, strict liability means that you are legally responsible for the damages caused by your product. It is the legal equivalent of zero tolerance and it is the most severe level of responsibility to which a party may be held under the law.  And guess what? Strict liability applies to school lunch programs.

Handing over responsibility to a private company that has the equipment and the skill-set to make utterly sterilized food is merely a rational response by school districts to strict liability. Outsourcing the cooking first and foremost a risk management tool for schools. The profiteering inevitably and unfortunately follows. The food might just be fatty, sugary, and salty, but contracting to a HACCP-knowledgable food service giants allows the districts to divest themselves of the massive obligations they would owe if and when they make somebody sick.

In conclusion, because I absolutely, positively cannot resist, here is a cart-wheeling, hair-netted Chris Farley doing his Lunch Lady bit with Sandler.