Tennessee county school officials are having a hard time explaining to parents how meat that was frozen more than five years ago was served to students across multiple schools last week.
A pork roast was served at schools in Hawkins County on April 22, even though it was frozen in 2009, a county official said.
Steve Starnes, the school director for Hawkins County told ABC affiliate WATE-TV in Knoxville that the school was now running inventory on food to ensure no years-old meat will be served again.
“We also began inventory on all of our frozen food items to make sure. We’re not only going to be incorporating the package date, but also the delivery date on our inventory items to make sure we know exactly when those items came in,” Starnes told WATE-TV.
According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, as long as the meat remained entirely frozen it can be safe to eat indefinitely.
“Food stored constantly at 0 °F will always be safe,” the USDA reports on their website. “Only the quality suffers with lengthy freezer storage. Freezing keeps food safe by slowing the movement of molecules, causing microbes to enter a dormant stage.”
For quality and taste reasons pork roasts should be thawed and eaten within four to 12 months, according to the USDA.
Why was a school district holding onto meat from 2009 in the first place? Even if the meat can, in theory, still be good if it were cared for properly — does the school know for a fact that it was?.
Michael Herrell, a county commissioner, said he was alerted to the use of the years-old frozen meat after the husband of a cafeteria worker sent him a picture of the thawed meat that was dated 2009 and served on April 22. Herrell told ABC News today that he brought up the issue with a local principal and then the school director because he was acting as a concerned parent.
“Students in Hawkins County — that one meal makes a difference in their day,” said Herrell, referring to the fact that the county is not affluent and many students rely on free or reduced lunch at school for their nourishmen. He explained he was concerned that younger children wouldn’t be able to tell if something was amiss with the food. “These smaller kids … they think it’s alright if they’re being served,” Herrell said.
No students had been reported ill due to the meat, Starnes told WATE-TV. He did not immediately respond to requests for further comment from ABC News.
Herrell said his children didn’t eat the pork roast served at their middle school and high school that day, and that despite the incident, he expects to allow his children to eat the school cafeteria food in the future.
“I think it will get fixed,” Herrell said, noting that he hopes ingredients “don’t fall through the crack again.”
None of this makes any sense. Who holds meat for 5+ years?