For the second time in as many months, the New York City Department of Education last week halted plans to serve school-lunch items after media inquiries concerning food safety.
Last month, the DOE pulled a type of pizza slice from its menu after inquiries by City Limits. The pizza had been removed from schools in May amid complaints about what appeared to be mold, but returned to the schools over the summer and served as the 2016-17 school year began—only to generate a new complaint about suspected mold.
The latest incident involves chicken tenders. After seven complaints from people who found bones or blue plastic in the chicken—as well as from school kitchen staff who thought the portions were the wrong size—the tenders that were already at school kitchens were ordered destroyed last month. But the inventory at the companies that distribute food to schools was sent to a facility for X-raying, according to emails obtained by City Limits. It was then cleared for use and re-delivered to the schools.
Last week, according to two people with knowledge of the program, staff at a Manhattan school found bones in one batch. SchoolFood had tenders on the menu for Monday the 31st. After inquiries by City Limits on Friday, the item was ordered held on Saturday afternoon.
“Out of an abundance of caution, chicken tenders have been temporarily removed from SchoolFood menus. After receiving quality control complaints, we swiftly responded and are investigating these incidents,” a spokeswoman told City Limits. “Safety is our top priority and school staff followed protocol in immediately taking action. We are working closely with the vendor and are awaiting results from inspectors. Distribution of the item will remain on hold until all of the concerns have been addressed.”
The chicken tenders are produced by Somma Foods, which did not reply to a request for comment.
The SchoolFood staffers involved in the chicken episode—Reneto Serra, Debra Ascher, Ngozi Aniegboka and Stephen O’Brien—were the same ones named on emails that exposed the pizza problems. The DOE declined to make them or other personnel, like SchoolFood executive director Dennis Barrett, available for interviews.
Last month, DOE denied that mold was actually found in the pizza, blaming a discoloration issue, but the producer, Schwan’s, said it would stop withdraw the pizza slices out of an abundance of caution.
The city’s SchoolFood system is one of the largest feeding operations in the country but has often encountered serious systemic problems, from a bid-rigging scandal that sent several people to prison in the 1990s to a Bloomberg-era restructuring that caused chronic delays in food deliveries.
City Limits’ reporting on food policy is supported by the Laurie M. Tisch Illumination Fund.