Bluefield Daily Telegraph, Bluefield, WV

March 15, 2014

Raw chicken: Gross oversight at Princeton Middle

Bluefield Daily Telegraph

— Mistakes in the kitchen happen from time to time. Even experienced cooks have accidentally used salt instead of sugar or measured out the wrong ingredients, grabbing the tablespoon instead of the teaspoon. Sometimes a cake falls in the oven or the cookies burn around the edges.

We understand those types of human errors. But when local students were served raw chicken for lunch at Princeton Middle School last week, we couldn’t believe our eyes. Nor could we understand how school cooks didn’t noticed that the chicken was raw.

The pictures of raw chicken came from social media. Students, who were served the chicken, took photos and sent them to their parents. Soon, the images went viral. Several parents posted pictures on the Daily Telegraph’s Facebook page. Parents wanted to know why and how raw chicken ended up on students’ plates? So did we.

According to the Mercer County School Board, at least 20 children were served raw chicken. Pamela Reid, director of child nutrition for Mercer County Schools, said the incident was under investigation and school cooks were undergoing retraining. As for why the incident happened, School Superintendent Deborah Akers said school cooks did not follow proper procedures.

But these were not undercooked cookies. Raw chicken carries Salmonella and can cause serious health problems. Thankfully, no children became sick after the incident, but no one knows how many students actually ate the raw chicken. Was no one in the kitchen paying attention that day? Attention to detail is an important part of the job, especially when working with children. Would these cooks serve raw chicken to their families? We don’t think so.

The same attention to detail in the kitchen at home should be applied in the lunchroom at school. Food safety — in every school in the two Virginias — should be a top priority. What if a child would have become seriously ill? Or what if a student with disabilities had received the raw chicken? He or she might not have noticed the chicken was undercooked.

Another concern is why the school didn’t address the incident after students complained and returned the food? A proactive approach might have calmed the storm. Instead, parents vented their frustrations on social media and to the newspaper.

We hope during the school’s retraining that school employees are reminded that their duties extend beyond a recipe. They are in charge of the health of their students during breakfast and lunch. Attention to details and a sense of responsibility should be a part of training — before cooks even enter the kitchen.

As for the raw chicken at Princeton Middle School, no excuse can justify or explain the incident. The photograph is, quite frankly, evidence that more attention needs to be paid by employees.

This wasn’t only a mistake but a gross oversight — in more ways than one.