The Portsmouth City Health Department says the food isn't dangerous to students.
"We had two (5-gallon) buckets of frozen strawberries. They are sliced, pre-sugared and ready to go. One was fine and dandy, but we opened the other and there was a 50-cent size piece of mold on the top. We scooped it off and we went six inches down into the bucket to get anything that was on the top gone. We stirred them up and tasted them and they were fine," said Jane Zeune, Food Services Director at Portsmouth City School District.
The food was then served to students on top of strawberry shortcake desserts.
Portsmouth School Facilities Coordinator Ralph Applegate said the food package had not expired and the kitchen staff uses their own discretion to decide whether food is safe to serve to students. He and Portsmouth Superintendent Scott Dutey were notified Monday and immediately met with the high school kitchen staff.
"From what they told me, it wasn't that great big a deal. I had a meeting with them and told them that if there was any concern or any doubt anymore, just to get rid of anything," Applegate said.
Dutey said he isn't sure why the kitchen staff didn't throw out the food, but he said that after speaking with them on Monday it will not happen again. Applegate added that the district is very cautious when it comes to food safety, and have even thrown out an entire freezer full of food when they felt it was unsafe to serve.
"We haven't had any incident that I'm aware ever where we've had anybody get sick or ill from any type of food," Applegate said.
The incident was not reported to the Portsmouth City Health Department, but Zeune said she did report it to the Ohio Department of Education after it had happened.
"I have spoken to the state and they said there was no violation," Zeune said.
She apologized that her actions have reflected badly upon the district and said next time she would just throw it all away.
This is the second reported incident in less than a week of possibly tainted lunches being served to students in Scioto County. Last week, also on Thursday, New Boston Schools warned parents that lunches served to more than 400 students may have been contaminated with bugs. Following that incident, New Boston Superintendent Mike Staggs accepted the resignation of the district's food service director and put two kitchen workers on five-day suspension.
Dutey said no discipline has been taken at Portsmouth City Schools.
"I think we've handled the situation how we needed to handle it," Applegate said. "I guess this was just a judgment call on the person that served it, and we told them how we feel about it."
No illnesses have been reported from students at either New Boston or Portsmouth schools.
PART TWO: City health inspector not concerned about PHS lunches
Portsmouth City Health Inspector Chris Smith said he was not notified about mold discovered on frozen desserts in the lunch room at Portsmouth High School last week, but said the district really had no reason to notify them at all. He said the kitchen staff should have thrown out the desserts, but said this probably will not cause any illnesses.
"It's not a major health threat at all," Smith said. "It makes food unappetizing and not taste good, but it's also a sign of spoilage and they should throw it out. They shouldn't have cut it off, they should have just thrown it away."
He later added, "Honestly, it's the least of my concerns."
It is, however, a critical violation of the city health code to serve adulterated food — such as spoiled, rotted or moldy foods.
"If you have bread mold, for instance, and think you can just cut it off, the bread mold actually goes back into the bread. All you're seeing is the top part. You're not seeing all the mold underneath. I would never recommend that anyone cut it off. It's best to just throw the product away," Smith said.
Fruit — such as the frozen strawberries used at Portsmouth High School — also spreads the mold throughout and should have been thrown out, he said.
"It's one of those things that's possible (for kids to get sick) but not likely," Smith said.
Smith said places are typically only inspected about twice a year. During its school inspections, the health department will check for things such as food temperatures and quality, physical facilities, how their food is received, stored, prepared and served, and general cleanliness. Incidents are marked as being either non-critical (not necessarily leading to food-borne illness) or critical (leading directly to food-borne illness).
"If we have a critical violation then we have a re-inspection, but if we have five or more non-critical violations we'll still re-inpsect," Smith said. "That's really kind of the standard that we tend to use. It's up to the judgment of the health inspector."
Portsmouth High School was inspected Nov. 16, 2010, and received a favorable report. The inspector noted the school's practices to promote hand washing and sanitizing in the lunch room. The school was inspected again earlier this week.
"Kitchen very clean particularly for lunch hour! Great job keeping food and food contact items covered when not in use," the most recent report reads.
Smith said the school will be inspected again this week, following recent reports of serving adulterated food products.
"If I find that they are serving adulterated food and it's not just someone who didn't realize they shouldn't have done it, then I'm going to re-inspect because that would be critical," he said.
RYAN SCOTT OTTNEY can be reached at (740) 353-3101, ext. 235, or email@example.com.