Gateway board discusses ‘cheesegate’ — possible moldy, expired food in cafeteria

During her report at a Nov. 15 meeting, Gateway School Board member Valerie Warning brought to the attention of her fellow board members that outdated and moldy cheese had been found in the refrigerator of the high school cafeteria.

Warning shared several photos of white cheese with what appeared to be blue mold on the outside with a use-by date of 2011.

She also showed pictures of ground meat with use-by dates of 2012 and 2014 and a case of raisins that the school received in September of this year with a use-by date of July.

“I would not feed this to my family,” Warning said. She added that she couldn’t say that any child has gotten sick from the food.

The school cafeteria was twice inspected by the Allegheny County Health Department after the cheese and other outdated items were brought to  Warning’s attention. The municipality of Monroeville also inspected the cafeteria.

During his board report, president Chad Stubenbort referred to the matter as “cheesegate” and said that it had been brought to the board’s attention by an employee, which is why the cafeteria was inspected. All inspections came back fine.

“Allegheny County Health Department said there were no recommendations on areas of improvement,” Stubenbort said about an Oct. 11 inspection.

Another inspection was conducted a week later on Oct 18 and the municipality inspected the coolers Oct. 24. All found that things were in order.

Stubenbort added that there was no evidence that the food was served to students and that the problem was with employees not cycling the food properly.

“The (district’s) food and nutrition department have been following all the USDA mandates,” superintendent William Short said.

A document obtained from the district states that food services director Martin Lorenzo informed his team that his goal was to adhere to a “two-year rollover in regard to the use and storage of meat” and that during the preparation process “food service cooks and managers determine if a product is fit to serve by evaluating the color and smell of the meat” and to throw it out when in doubt.

Additionally, Lorenzo informed his staff that all nonperishable food inventory on hand shall not exceed a period of three years beyond date of receipt.

As for the moldy cheese, the document states that “the USDA guidelines confirmed that cheese which exhibited signs of mold could be used if the mold was remove by cutting off at least one inch around and below the mold.”

Lorenzo stated that cheese in that condition is prepared for use by cutting the mold off plus one additional inch of cheese, and as an added precaution, the remaining cheese is used only in recipes where it is brought up to proper temperature to ensure any remaining bacteria is killed.

Stubenbort said disciplinary action was taken against an employee for not properly cycling the food.

In other action, the district is again petitioning Allegheny County court for armed school police officers. The board voted 6-3 at a Nov. 15 meeting on the matter. Stubenbort, Neal Nola, Mary Beth Cirucci, Steve O’Donnell, Joh Ritter and Scott Williams voted in favor of the motion. Stephanie Byrne, George Lapcevich and Warning dissented.

The district filed a petition prior to the start of this school year, but Judge Timothy O’Reilly denied Gateway’s request for an armed police force with arrest powers. The decision also stated that no educator, mental health professional, school psychologist or child development professional was consulted on the matter.

The district has since hired such professionals to look into whether a school police force is a good idea. Gateway has hired several school police offers who are working in each building, but are unarmed.

Additionally, the district took out language stating that the officers should have arrest powers. Instead the petition states that the officers should be armed and able to cite students.