First it was salmonella and E.Coli. Now it is expired food, some frozen two years after its original purchase. What are public school cafeterias serving our children?
School cafeteria food has never been a particularly gourmet experience, but parents can at least rest assured the food their children are eating at school is relatively fresh and safe, right? Maybe not. Recent reports about two different school districts suggest that some systems are not as vigilant about food expiration dates as they should be. We'll take a closer look at these expired food allegations and find out what the districts in question are now doing to ensure a safe fare is served to their student body daily.
Outdated Food Raising a Ruckus in Boston
Boston schools are currently investigating allegations that the cafeterias may be offering students food that has gone long past its expiration date. According to a report at Boston.com, Councilor at Large John Connolly began his investigation after receiving reports about expired food in some schools around the Boston area. Connolly checked the kitchens of four different schools to see if the reports had any substantial basis. As a result of his personal research, he showed up at a recent City Council meeting with nine photos of food in school cafeterias that had been reportedly frozen for up to two years. This timeframe goes well beyond USDA's freezer storage guidelines and raised serious concerns with educators and parents alike.
After the City Council meeting, Connolly told Boston.com, "I want them to come in here and assure us that the food is safe. We're not talking about salmonella and E.coli. But we are talking about food that has likely lost much of its nutritional value."
At the BostonHerald.com, Connolly also said he has filed a public records request asking the school department to release all information related to expired food inventory, after his visit of four Boston area schools. The specific schools Connolly toured include Orchard Gardens, English High School, Boston Latin Academy and Curley K-8 School.
Boston Public Schools spokesman Matthew Wilder told the Herald that the food in question did have "best if used by" dates, but those dates were considered more guidelines for when the food was its peak for freshness and flavor. Wilder added that according to USDA guidelines, the food was still safe to eat.
"We are happy to work with the councilor to answer any questions or requests he may have. The silver lining of all this is that it presents an opportunity for parents to know there's no wall, that they can come forward and ask lots of questions."
AtlantaSchools also Dealing with Expired Food
Boston isn't the only area dealing with outdated food in school cafeterias. Two schools in the Atlanta area have also come under recent fire for some of the fare they were serving to students. According to a report at DefenderNetwork.com, the allegations of expired food were originally made by a former food warehouse manager for Marietta City Schools, Howard Clotfelter.
Clotfelter said he first tried to go to school management about the outdated food, but nothing ever changed. He then sent emails to the news publication, discussing how the food service director for the schools instructed cafeteria workers to use expired food. In one case, a worker was directed to use scrambled eggs that were five months past their expiration date. Clotfelter told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, "My personal concern is that you're talking about 7,000 kids being served these products."
In response to Clotfelter's allegations, superintendent of Marietta schools Emily Lembeck said 12 schools are now being evaluated in regards to outdated food. However, Lembeck would not identify any of the specific schools that are currently under investigation. In regards to Clotfelter's accusations, Lembeck responded, "When he made a statement that there was expired food in our schools, his allegation was credible."
Some of the reports about the expired food in Marietta schools suggest that cafeterias were using outdated food in order to save money. In response, school board member Stuart Fleming called that approach unacceptable. Fleming told the Journal-Constitution, "We're all trying to make sure we control costs, but we cannot allow for cost control measures to put at risk children's nutrition or health."
What's Being Done to Protect the Students?
As schools in Marietta investigate their food handling policies, other districts in the area have also seized the opportunity to perform inventory checks and tighten up their own rules in regards to expired food. For example, Cobb County is using this opportunity to look at their own policies in this category, even though they have a clean track record up to this point. Cobb is the second-largest school system in Georgia.
Another school system in the area that goes to great strides to prevent expired food from being served to students is Cherokee County. These cafeterias are instructed to cover expired food in bleach so there is no chance it will be used. If the amount of expired food is less than $100, it is placed in the school dumpster right before trash pick-up day. If it is more than $100 worth of food, it is taken to a nearby landfill.
Marietta is also taken important steps to prevent additional expired food from being served to students. Lembeck said she has instructed all kitchen managers to throw out all expired food and never use outdated products again. She has also said she will hire investigators to determine how the situation occurred so that she can take appropriate action to prevent it in the future.
Still, some parents are not yet satisfied. DeShea Johnson, the parent of a seventh grader in Marietta Middle School told the Jounal-Constitution, "I think we'll be brown-bagging it until we find out more information."
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