Every day throughout the school year, in more than two dozen locations around the county, the food service staff of Wicomico County Public Schools serves on average more than 1,900 breakfasts and more than 7,200 lunches to our important customers – our students.
It’s an important task for many reasons. Research consistently supports the connection between a stomach that’s full and a mind that’s ready to learn. While plenty of students eat breakfast at home, and others bring a packed lunch to school, many students and families depend on the breakfast and lunch they receive at school. The percentage of Wicomico students who qualify for Free and Reduced Meals (FARM) is nearly 60%, and in some schools the FARM percentage is 85% or even higher. Many families appreciate the convenience of students being able to purchase meals at school when they like what’s on the menu, or when the family is too rushed or too short on supplies to pack.
Another frequent diner in school cafeterias is Dr. John Fredericksen, Superintendent of Schools. Almost every week he visits schools to have lunch with students, purchasing the same menu items as students. In addition to ensuring that he gets to eat during a busy work day, lunchtime at school is a great chance for him to hear what’s important to students, and to see cafeteria workers and other school staff in action.
“My favorite thing is to hear them tell me about their biggest challenges, be it subtraction or AP Calculus, and how we’re helping them meet these challenges. “I treasure the times when I can step out of the office and hear directly from our students, and I enjoy joining them for school lunch. My menu choices are chicken sandwiches and lasagna, with chocolate milk.”
For each and every school cafeteria customer, in every school cafeteria around the county, food service staff strive to provide healthful and appealing meals, in accordance with the Healthy Hunger-Free Kids Act and other federal guidelines, with careful control of food costs.
The past two winters have been challenging for food service, which must adjust menus to adapt to snow days. They must change menu offerings to ensure ingredients and supplies are used before their “best by” date. Additionally, they rotate and delete stock according to established procedures to ensure that kitchens are serving the best possible food. School cafeterias do an excellent job throughout the year checking dates and rotating stock with all food including milk, fruits, vegetables, condiments, snack items, and more.
Recently some community concerns surfaced regarding adherence to “best by” and “sell by” dates. In response to these concerns, Director of Food Service Eric Goslee reminded food service kitchen managers of the proper procedures to follow, including:
Double-check dates on foods served to students. Remove any outdated foods that are found. Please do not sell anything beyond its “best by” and/or “sell by” dates. Any items beyond that date, please inventory and report to the food service director.
For items such as packaged produce (baby carrots, apple slices): As these items get closer to the date, move your fresh fruit and/or vegetables around to serve before the date. Take items out of package, rinse and repackage (boats, bags, etc.) for service.
Do not combine like items with different dates to reduce storage space. Not combining items with different dates makes it easier to ensure that one box or lot contains items that all have the same “best by” or “sell by” date.
Use and sell items on a first-in, first-out basis to maximize shelf life and food quality, and reduce waste.
If a concern or question is raised about any aspect of food service, including “best by” and “sell by” dates, a discovery process is done to collect written statements from various people involved, to ask questions related to the concern, and to determine whether established procedures were followed. Once the discovery process is complete, the school system addresses the concern in an appropriate manner, said Dr. Cathy Townsend, Assistant Superintendent for Administrative Services. Wicomico has proper procedures in place for serving more than 9,000 meals a day in school cafeterias, and will continue to make every effort to ensure that procedures are carefully and conscientiously followed.