Seattle Courant

School Lunches to no Longer be Prepared at Schools

Union members picketing outside School Board office
By Ryan Burr
April 27, 2009 07:04PM

“The whole thing is sad,” said Lynn Lobdell, a lunchroom manager at McClure Middle School and a member of International Union of Operating Engineers, Local 609. “Superintendent Goodloe-Johnson says the quality of food won’t suffer, but the food will be prepared at the central district office and shipped in plastic bags. That’s more plastic that goes into landfills.”

Amy Fields, an assistant cook at Denny Middle School, said food made at the central kitchen, which is part of the district office on Third Avenue, can’t be as fresh as food made on site because of delivery time.

The central kitchen opened in October 2002 and has since serviced all elementary schools and special programs. District officials made a presentation about changing the 10 middle schools and 10 high schools from on-site food production to off-site, bulk preparation at a March 4 school board meeting. This followed a review by several national organizations of the district’s nutrition program, and those representatives concluded that Seattle’s food service in schools would operate more efficiently if it used its central kitchen more.

School district spokesman David Tucker and nutrition services director Anita Finch explained the upside of switching to a central kitchen for meal preparation.

“We have time and temperature controls in place to ensure food safety, and with a central kitchen operation, we will have standardized recipes. Recipes used on-site can be inconsistent, so we see the quality of food improving,” Finch said.

Tucker said salad dressings and sauces, salad mixes, and similar items are transported in plastic bags for ease of transport, food safety and reduction of spillage, but the remainder of the food will be transported in reusable containers.

Neither the superintendent nor the board members addressed the nutrition services change at Wednesday’s meeting, but union members have been meeting with district staff about the matter. The school board’s approval was not needed for the change.

Lobdell asked during public comment why the 32 people whom she says will lose their jobs because of going to bulk food preparation haven’t been notified. She asked the same about other employees whom she says will lose hours.

Finch agreed that there is “potential for a loss of jobs and loss of hours” for employees, and Tucker said the district will notify affected employees once union negotiations wind down, but that process is ongoing.

Regardless of where the food is made and how it is delivered, meals must aim to comply with dietary guidelines for Americans under federal and state regulations and school district policies, including:
· 30 percent or less calories from fat
· 10 percent or less calories from saturated fat
· 1/3 of the recommended dietary allowance for specific nutrients for lunch
· 1/4 of the recommended dietary allowance for specific nutrients for breakfast
· Meet Washington state targets for cholesterol, sodium, and dietary fiber