Food donations by schools in question - WKOW 27: Madison, WI Breaking News, Weather and Sports

Food donations by schools in question

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MOUNT HOREB (WKOW) -- The practice of allowing school children to return sealed, unused food and beverage items for donation to food pantries is being flagged by state officials as unsafe and improper, as food pantry representatives complain, the state's view is unfair.

Mount Horeb schools food service director Michelle Denk tells 27 News approximately fifteen to twenty crates of milk and other items are donated weekly to the Mount Horeb Area Food Pantry, as the result of children returning unused breakfast and lunch items.

"I think that that's something they're really proud of," Denk says.

"They really like to give back to the community," Denk tells 27 News.

Verona schools food service director Cindra Magli says the amount of food items for donation in her school district has been boosted, as children discard more, with their meals including required portions of fruit and vegetables.

Both Magli and Denk say milk cartons, pudding cups, cracker packages and other served, but unused items must be sealed, in order for them to be included in any donation.

But a Feb. 10, 2014 memo to food service staff members involved in USDA Child Nutrition programs from state department of public instruction nutrition team director Jessica Sharkus includes "reminders," with one addressing untouched leftovers.

"Food that has been served cannot be donated," the memo states.

"There is no guarantee that food is safe to use so these items may pose an additional health risk for individuals who rely on charitable organizations for subsistence," according to the memo.

Mount Horeb Area Food Pantry representative Mike Pharo says donated items are sorted and checked to ensure no tampering has taken place.

"I was told one of the concerns was some of the children might be taking a hypodermic needle and poking into the cartons, which I thought was just bizarre," Pharo tells 27 News.

Denk says her school district's practice of donating unused, but served food items was flagged by a DPI representative during a regularly scheduled food practices audit last month. Denk tells 27 News she'll continue to allow students to return sealed items for donation, at least until she's received the written result of the DPI audit. Magli says one Verona school's food donation program of returned, served item will also continue as well.

A spokesperson for the Madison metropolitan school district has yet to reply to a request for comment on whether any district schools are donating unused, served food and beverage items.

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