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Pink meat pic raises concerns for parents

By Jennifer Stanko

The emergence of photos and complaints by Hays CISD students regarding school lunches has led to questions of what processes the district takes to ensure the quality of food.

Those issues stem from a photo that was sent to the Hays Free Press Twitter page that appeared to show undercooked meat. 

According to Sean James, director of Child Nutrition at Hays CISD, the issue might be preservatives that may give food, such as hamburger patties and chicken patties, a pink hue. 

James made it clear that there is no chance food is undercooked at Hays CISD. 

“[Hamburger and chicken patties] are fully cooked prior to being frozen and sent to us,” James said. “We then heat them to 165 degrees Fahrenheit, so there is no possibility of undercooking.” 

James said hamburger and chicken patties contain nitrates as a preservative, “which when heated and exposed to air gives a pink color to the meat.” 

But James said the district often “cooks fresh food from scratch as much as possible.” James said there is a kitchen manager and assistant kitchen manager at each campus who make sure procedures and recipes are followed daily.

The district also works to provide appropriate portion sizes of whole grains, lean proteins and a fresh fruit and veggie bar daily.

According to Hays CISD, a chef crafts school lunch menus with the assistance of a registered dietitian. Those lunches are “nutritionally balanced, which means they meet state and federal regulations” to meet students’ needs. 

The district says in its mission statement regarding child nutrition that there is a “strong relationship between nutrition and learning” and that the district supports the relationship by providing “a strong focus on nutrition.” 

Hays CISD Public Information officer Tim Savoy said the district contracts its food service to Southwest Food Services, which then orders from various food suppliers. 

In fiscal year 2015-2016, the district budgeted $8.53 million for the Child Nutrition Fund. Of that amount, $5.5 million was from Federal school lunch/breakfast programs. 

In addition, Texas law requires every independent school district to have a School Health Advisory Council (SHAC) to develop nutritional guidelines and wellness goals. 

SHACs are a school board appointed advisory group consisting of parents, members of the community, staff and students. That group works together to improve the health of students and their families though carefully planned school health programs. 

Additionally, the law states that “a school district must consider the recommendations of the local SHAC before changing the district’s health education curriculum or instruction.”

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