When At-Large Boston City Councilor John Connolly received several tips that Boston Public Schools were serving expired food to students he acted, and investigated. He went into four schools and found expired frozen food sitting in cafeterias.
Last week, Connolly, led two hearings, one at City Hall on Tuesday with BPS officials, and a second one at Hibernian Hall in Roxbury for parents, students and the general public to testify.
Connolly spoke about his thoughts on the topic in an interview with Patch, “I’m pleased with BPS initial steps to remove over 3000 cases of expired food and replace the head of food services department.”
In total 46 schools were found to have expired frozen food, which was being served to students, including at the Ohrenberger School and the West Roxbury Educational Complex (WREC), said Connolly.
BPS Spokesperson Matt Wilder contradicted Connolly, saying that 40 schools had food picked up, not including the Ohrenberger. Wilder also provided more context to the food taken from the WREC - with 13 cases of food being taken from WREC, and WREC has received 10,844 cases of food and supplies this year.
While it is not illegal to serve expired frozen food, there are many questions about how healthy and nutritional frozen food is past its expiration date.
Connolly, the chair of the City Council’s Committee on Education, said he wants to see long-term solution to providing students with better food, by bringing in a nutrition expert, like a chef, or a food services expert to manage inventory.
“They need to make those changes for the long term to make sure kids are getting healthy meals at every meal and the department is run in a cost efficient manor.”
After Connolly’s investigation he brought the matter to the forefront, and asked for inventory reports for several years. Connolly saw that food services department needs to be run better than it has, “I was shocked, once you read the inventory reports over the last three years you see a clear abuse of inventory control… It’s been like this for years.”
Superintendent Carol Johnson sent out a letter to all BPS parents regarding food and nutrition services. "I am writing to personally assure you that the food we serve to your children is safe and healthy. We take the issue of food safety as seriously as you do. Our cafeteria managers and kitchen staff are highly trained, would never serve anything that was questionable, and consider food safety the top priority."
Johnson also advised parents that the number of students eating food served by schools has dropped since Connolly's investigation.
"In addition to our desire to inform you of the steps we have already taken, what prompted me to write this letter is something we heard today from one of our cafeteria managers. She said that in the days after the safety of our food was called into question, the number of children arriving for free breakfast at her school had dropped by 25 percent. One student refused to eat lunch because she heard it might be dangerous.
"Let us be clear about the issue at hand: The problems we have identified in our Food and Nutrition Services Department concern storing foods too long – but this is not about what we serve our students each day. The safety of our food is not in question," said Johnson
Connolly added that he didn’t think that the USDA did not send BPS frozen food that was already expired, “Our investigation and search through inventory records clearly shows they were serving expired food – it’s almost impossible to dispute. It wasn’t expired (when it was sent to BPS), it sat and sat and sat in inventory.”
While Connolly does not want to take credit for a possible movement across the region, other schools have started to perform inventories of their own frozen food, such as the Somerville school district, which removed expired frozen food from their system.
As for Connolly’s own frozen food at his West Roxbury home? He laughed and said, “When you have kids you do pay attention to this stuff. I wouldn’t serve my kids anything two years past expiration date… I might’ve done it to myself before I had kids.”
Connolly said he would be checking in with BPS at least twice during the next two months and during budget season to make sure that BPS’ food services department is running better.
Johnson added in her letter that changes have already occurred and more are to come, "We have fixed the inventory problems outlined in the news media this month, and over the last year, we have been implementing changes recommended by a team of outside auditors we invited to assist us. This is an issue about storing foods too long and being more efficient, and accurately planning meals and ordering appropriately."