VIDEO: Thousands of turkey servings pulled from Lee County school lunch lines

Video from NBC-2

— Thousands of servings of turkey were pulled from Lee County Public Schools lunch lines Thursday after the district learned of a manufacturer “market withdrawal.” Collier County schools were unaffected.

Roughly 50,000 servings of the turkey were in school cafeterias Thursday, but it is unknown how many of those servings had to be pulled from serving lines, district spokesman Joe Donzelli said Friday.

The 600 cases of sliced turkey breast in Lee Schools were identified by lot numbers from Kentucky-based Culinary Standards, a supplier to mass-food distributor U.S. Foodservice. The district has a contract with U.S. Foodservice through a cooperative that includes 37 other districts in the state, including Collier County. Collier County food service workers checked the lot numbers on turkey in their cafeterias Thursday, and determined that none of the turkey in Collier was affected, a Collier district spokeswoman confirmed Friday.

The district stated the food had been recalled, but Culinary Standards spokesman Kenny Davis said it was subject to a “market withdrawal.”

The difference, Davis said, is “one is a safety issue, one isn’t.” A market withdrawal falls into the latter category, he said.

“On Wednesday afternoon, we received complaints from schools stating that our product, sliced turkey and gravy, had an odor,” said Davis. “When we found that out, obviously we were concerned about it and wanted to investigate it.”

Culinary Standards had none of the turkey and gravy in inventory, he said, making it impossible to inspect the product. He said he did not immediately know how many schools or states were affected.

“We took a proactive approach and asked the schools to stop using it,” said Davis. “We put it on hold — we did not know what we were dealing with.”

Together, the 38 districts in the statewide Power Buying Group form the largest food-buying cooperative in the southeastern United States, purchasing food through the second-largest distributor of food in the country. U.S. Foodservice also supplies food to hospitals, hotels, restaurants and the U.S. Senate.

According to a news release from the Lee County School District, the Food and Nutrition Services department learned of the withdrawal from U.S. Foodservice on Thursday, then contacted cafeteria managers and staff. Cafeteria workers had to inspect the turkey in their schools to determine if it matched lot numbers subject to the withdrawal. Donzelli said the district’s nutrition department is working to determine how many schools were affected, and likely won’t have a final count until Monday, but he stated that none of the suspect turkey was served to students. Some boxes of turkey were determined by their lot numbers to be unaffected and were served.

The district, which is composed of roughly 80,000 students, serves lunch to roughly two-thirds of its student population each day.

In the past three years, recalls of products such as canned chili and peanut butter affected some school districts on a large scale, but Lee County escaped such dilemmas.

Donzelli said it is the only mass withdrawal or recall he has seen since he arrived at the district four years ago this month.

“In that time, I’m not aware of anything on this scale,” said Donzelli. “There have been things that have been recalled that have not affected us, because we didn’t purchase those products.”

Connect with education reporter Leslie Williams Hale at naplesnews.com/staff/leslie_hale

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