Tennessee school kids were served freezer meat from 2009—and in some cases children possibly ate pork roast almost as old as they are.
Hawkins County officials acknowledged its cafeterias dished out the flaky, six-year-old slabs last week, after a lunchroom worker at an elementary school leaked photos of the mystery meat.
Parent and county commissioner Michael Herrell told a local TV station that primary-school cooks decided against forking over the ancient grub. The cuts, however, slipped into other schools, including Cherokee High School.
“These high-schoolers—they understand if they see something they are not going to like they don't eat it,” Herrell told Knoxville’s WBIR. “But when you get to these kindergartners, first- and second-graders, do they really know if the meat is bad or not?”
The high school in Rogersville—Tennessee’s second-oldest town—couldn’t escape the tasteless, but malodorous, pork after a heated debate among staff.
One cook “making a stink about it said it smelled so bad, they made gravy to put over the meat to give it a smell and give it a better taste,” Herrell said.
It’s unclear how the old pork was still in school freezers—or was even able to pass muster to be served.
“We have a lot of kids that go to school, and that might be the only meal they get all day long,” Herrell fumed. “And it upsets me that these kids are going to school to get that meal.”
So far, no students in the 7,000-pupil school district were reported sick.
USDA guidelines for uncooked roasts indicate the meat can be stored from 4 to 12 months and still retain taste and quality. The agency says frozen meats are safe indefinitely.
Hawkins County’s director of schools, Steve Starnes, said the district has launched an inventory on all frozen items.
Still, Starnes said the out-of-date swine passed the district’s tests.
“There were some meats with dates of 2009, ‘10, ‘11 in the freezer,” Starnes told WBIR. “Our child nutrition supervisor had the cafeteria managers look at the meat, do the tests, and see if it was OK. The decision was made to serve it.”
It’s not the only school lunch snafu in recent years.
Boston residents were appalled in 2011 after an inspection revealed beef, pork sausages, cheese, and other food in school warehouse freezers that dated to 2009.
Some students in January 2011 were offered grilled egg patties that had been sitting in a warehouse since September 2009, officials reported.
But there is hope for America’s unsavory menus.
U.S. schools are increasingly passing on the so-called “pink slime,” a lean, finely textured scrap-beef product treated with ammonium hydroxide or citric acid to kill bacteria.
In the 2013 fiscal year, schools bought 392,000 pounds of ground beef containing the soylent pink through the National School Lunch Program—down from 7 million pounds the previous year, Bloomberg reported.