Expired food in public school lunch programs
This was the TV news scandal-du-jour here in Boston earlier this week. Here's the Huffpost version:
I am fuming over this tempest-in-a-teapot. The schools point to USDA guidelines which maintain that the food is safe. Sure, there may be somewhat less nutritional value in the packages that aren't used till a year or two beyond their "best by" dates. But our schools have major academic and infrastructure problems. They do not need the added expense of discarding this food or funding studies to assess the seriousness of the "problem".
Surely many parents who are fretting over this are taking their kids to McDonalds and getting salty, high-fat, takeout for dinner on a regular basis, when they are not heating up frozen fish sticks, chicken nuggets, or pizza rolls for the little darlings' suppers. For children whose parents DO home-cook healthy, balanced meals, a 2-yr old frozen pizza for a school lunch will not adversely affect their health any more than a just-produced one will.
Do you automatically discard canned, boxed, or frozen food that is undamaged, just because the magic date has passed? Not me. I am also offended that the rules for the annual food drive run by the U.S. Postal Service disallow dented cans and shelf-stable foods that are beyond their expiration dates. If they're good enough for me, they're good enough for people who need assistance feeding their families. Also, I am old enough to have grown up before there were dates on food packaging. End of rant.
Dented cans are actually a little tricky. If the dent has caused a very small hole, it can take a while for obvious signs to show up (top moves when you push it due to lack of vacuum, bulging, rusting, whatever). My guess is that most of them are safe, but I tend to err on the side of caution with that.
I volunteer at a regional food bank, and frequently have the task of sorting through dented cans donated by a local manufacturer. Our standard is discard any can where the dent has changed the shape of the top/bottom since is may have broken the seal. We also discard cans with sharp creases, as there may be a very tiny hole. We probably discard 2/3-3/4 of the cans (the discards go to a local hog farm where they are sterilized and fed to the hogs). Most of the adult volunteers understand the risk of botulism, but we frequently have to give the teenagers a quick food safety/history lesson.
How those packaged food got away unnoticed for years baffles me. Sure, a can of something can be hiding in the pantry at someone's house for more than a year. However, a school cafeteria isn't a restaurant that changes its menu every month. The same items are served over and over again.
I look at my fridge every week before I do grocery shopping to see what and how much I have and to throw out anything that has gone bad. Does that mean nobody looked at the school pantry for a year+? They have spring/summer/winter breaks to do whatever they need to do. Can I assume that the kitchen isn't being cleaned during this whole time (which I think is scarier than expired frozen food)? Whoever ordering the supplies doesn't care about what goes in and out? Is that how our tax dollars being spent?
grey - I'm always on top of my fridge and pantry, so we rarely have any expired food. But I wouldn't mind consuming expired food. Mother nature gave me 5 senses to identify stuff that's bad for my body.
I understand where you're coming from...I really do.
But given how serious food-borne illness is in its worst forms (I'm not talking fever, chills, and vomiting, but hospitalization and death)...and how unreliable "judgement" can be (as has been well-phrased above) -- it isn't worth even ONE child being hospitalized (not even death...just treated for dehydration) .
While I fee and share your utter outrage and frustration at this policy, one must consider where the administrators are coming from.
If there wasn't a bright line rule that said all "expired foods" must be tossed, and we used (heaven forbid!) a common sense approach, we'd have to ask one thorny question ... whose common sense should we adopt and use?
Food that is spoiled to Mom Jane could be perfectly acceptable to Papa Joe. I'm ok with bananas that are bruised and black, but several of my colleagues would never think of touching such a rotten fruit.
If an apple is bruised, I simply cut out the bruised part and happily eat the rest. Others? Not necessarily.
Heck, even on these boards you often hear the query of "I left my [insert perishable food item here] on the counter overnight, my house is cool, is it still safe to eat" ... and which is undoubtedly followed by a litany of conflicting responses and advice from very knowledgeable and well-intentioned 'Hounds.
Now, imagine multiplying that by 1000x with overbearing and overprotective parents and squeamish kids.
Given the choice (a Hobson one perhaps), this is probably the best we can do.
Rarely do I agree with ipse, but I agree here. Especially in a school setting, I would want to err on the side of ridiculously extreme caution, because trial lawyers are always trying to sniff out new business in this profitable area.
It is actually more efficient to waste some food than to spend millions defending a class action lawsuit.
It is very frustrating when everything has to be done by a"policy" ..Unfornuatly not everyone has the same judgement, moral vaules, and basic common sense. When is comes to public services (especially ones involving children) there must be a set standard. As pointless as it seems, you never can leave anythign up for personal judgements.
This is another reason that our era of the Holy and Infallible Policy drives me batty, and, frankly, makes me sad. Because there are idiots wandering round, we've decided to substitute good judgment (which prevails in most cases, I've found, when given a ghost of a chance) with Policies, rather than encouraging and empowering people to make smart decisions, like going ahead and using that rice that's three weeks past date, or whatever. God forbid we should allow people to use their brains. No; give them a Policy. Sigh...
<If they're good enough for me, they're good enough for people who need assistance feeding their families.>
It's hard to argue with this, because it's true, but consider that presenting needy people with expired items or dented cans sends a message: they deserve only cast-off, sub-par food that others would throw away. You and I can choose to say "what the heck" and eat that elderly peanut butter, but when it isn't a choice, I bet it's pretty disheartening. I hate to trivialize this with a Seinfeld reference, but you may recall the episode in which Elaine brought "muffin stumps" to a homeless shelter and was chastised.
It's one of those rules I don't like, but can't blame them for following. Simply put, if students are fed expired food and, for whatever reason, which probably won't even be the date of the food, if the students get sick... Many heads will roll.
I'm thinking how stupid this gets... I mean, I bet a lot of places (not just schools) throw out bottled water and other stuff just because it's past the expiration date.
Not just that, there needs to be a set standard. Otherwise, one person would say " it's ok to serve this can of corn that expired 2 weeks ago" (which would be fine). But someone else may say "it's ok to serve this milk that expired 2 weeks ago".
You can't leave this type of thing as a judgement call. So instead of making up rules and standards, they follow the simplest one. Serve it by the expiration date.