Shanna Shipman of the Pekin Times reports that local parents and students can breathe – and eat – easier, following assurance from Aramark Food Service that the tortilla shells suspected to have caused illness among District 150 students are not used in other local schools.
Joyce Phillips of Aramark Food Services at Pekin Community High School was on hand at Monday’s District 303 Board meeting to assure the board that recent concerns regarding food safety in Peoria are not directly relevant to Aramark services in Pekin.
An inquiry was made at the meeting by board member Jim Mangan in light of three recent incidents in Peoria and Mason counties resulting in large numbers of local school children becoming ill at school.
Philips informed the board that although Aramark serves both Districts 303 and 150, the Peoria schools often use different vendors than PCHS.
The tortilla shells suspected to have caused illness are from a vendor that is not used by District 303, Pekin Grade School District 108, or any other local school district, according to Aramark spokesperson Karen Cutler.
Cutler maintains that “food safety is of the utmost importance” to the Aramark Food Service company, despite the recent outbreak of illness in Peoria.
Last Wednesday, 45 Peoria District 150 students complained of feeling sick after lunch. This follow a December incident in which about 80 students at five District 150 schools became ill after lunch, complaining of the same symptoms reported last Wednesday.
The cause of student illness in both cases has not yet been officially determined by a health department investigation.
However, the same tortilla shells were served on both days, and have been found to contain an unusual amount of a certain preservative, according to state health officials.
Chicago-based Del Ray Tortilleria did agree to recall the tortilla shells and adjust its ingredients, said Marlena Bordson of the Illinois Department of Public Health Friday.
Peoria County Health Department voluntarily pulled the tortillas from school menus in advance of Del Ray’s recall.
District 303 Superintendent Paula Davis told board members at Monday’s meeting that she received an e-mail last week from the State Board of Education directing schools not to use the tortilla shells, and took note of the precaution.
“To the best of my knowledge, we have never had a problem with kids getting sick,” in connection with the school’s food service, Davis said.
School food poisoning was also suspected in Mason County recently, when about 80 students at New Central Elementary School in Havana, also served by Aramark, stayed home sick or left school early Thursday.
However, the illnesses have since been linked to a flu-like virus.