Poplar Bluff school officials meet to discuss food policy changes

Poplar Bluff school dist. addresses rodent infestation

POPLAR BLUFF, MO (KFVS) - School officials in Poplar Bluff, Missouri met on Thursday, Feb. 18 to discuss changes to their food policy.

This comes after a controversy involving a rodent infestation at a food storage facility.

Officials talked about more open communication and encouraging food service employees to speak up if something isn't right.

They also talked about writing up the new policies, so the board can have something in place, and a find a new, updated facility for long-term food storage.

In January, school leaders responded after food with mouse feces and urine was found in a food cooler at the Poplar Bluff kindergarten center.

School officials met with parents at an open meeting to discuss concerns.

Poplar Bluff School District Superintendent Chris Hon wanted to assure concerned parents that no food contaminated with mice droppings was fed to students.

"The supervisor allowed contaminated food products with mouse droppings and urine to be moved to the walk-in cooler of the kindergarten center," according to a work order filed on January 5, 2016 by the Butler County Health Department.

Hon said the food was in the school for three hours and then cleaned up. The health department met with school leaders and expedited all of the food including some food that was dated from 2014.

"We voluntarily decided let's just get rid of all of this food and start fresh; and so we are starting fresh. We brought in a truck to store our cold storage and dry storage," Hon said.

Environmental Public Health Specialist Chris Grider evaluated the food storage area in the warehouse, before immediate clean up, and after the incident at the kindergarten center.

"There was such an odor present in this cooler, and you’ve got to keep in mind this was a homemade walk in cooler... and I’m going to blame it on mouse urine," Grider said. "I’m not a scientist, so I can’t prove that. But, it would take your breath when you walked in there, and it was so bad the school district and Chartwells hired a professional company to come in and clean it and dispose of it, as if it were a toxic thing."

"[The building is] open, the flooding I'm sure had something to do with it," Grider continued. "But, you know it needs more attention, you know they have a pest control service that comes in there on a regular basis. But, I don't believe that it was being reported properly to say, 'Hey, Mr. Pest Control, we have a problem over here' because when they did, they started inundating the place with traps and they were catching them. [Mice] were running over our feet while we were there examining this. Yes, that's bad."

Grider said the building, an old National Guard armory, is very old.

"It's used all summer long, with the overhead doors open, people come in and out with furniture, equipment, tools and make repairs on things, so it's really hard to keep any kind of rodent out of that when it's open," Grider said.

Grider said they called the Department of Health in Cape Girardeau.

"Ann Winkler from Cape Girardeau, Mo. came in and a work order was written, which is one of the last steps before a closure order is written; and the food was embargoed," he said.

"I don't think [the students] were in danger at that moment in time, Grider said. "I believe if it was left unattended, I believe that stuff would have been used. I really believe that some of the cooks in the schools, that one, as well as others. If they would have looked at that they would have said 'wait a minute, I'm not using this' because everyone that saw that, when it was setting there, was like 'What was it?'"

The superintendent said no children were affected by this incident. All the food students are eating came from outside areas and not from the warehouse site.

"I can assure parents right now, that we didn’t feed food that was contaminated with mice and we will not in the future," Hon said. "We will be better from this and provide a better food service experience for our children and our parents for this.  We apologize, because it’s not something you want to see about your school or food service in the press but we are going to be safe."

Hon said they have had a good record on inspections with Chartwells and will continue to use the company for the food at schools.

They threw out all of the food and started fresh.

"We have safe storage for all of our food now," Hon said.

The school will be given a fact sheet on the incident to all parents.

"Our office is always open to problems and so are concerns," Hon said. "So, if anytime, anybody has a concern about any operation in the school district they can feel free to come here whether they're a parent, whether they are an employee, or whoever, you know we're into solving problems not worrying about where we get the information from."

Click the link if you want to see your child's most recent Poplar Bluff School inspection.

There is a meeting to discuss the issue on Wednesday night at 6:30 p.m. in the Board of Education Room on north Westwood Blvd.

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