Bad burritos ruin lunch for some at Kingman schools

About 20 students at La Senita and 10 at Cerbat brought their green chili burritos back to the lunch line and said their food "didn't look so good." This photo is unrelated to the burritos served at Kingman schools.

About 20 students at La Senita and 10 at Cerbat brought their green chili burritos back to the lunch line and said their food "didn't look so good." This photo is unrelated to the burritos served at Kingman schools.

KINGMAN - Several students at Cerbat Elementary and La Senita Elementary turned their noses up Wednesday to an unwelcome lunch visitor - mold.

About 20 students at La Senita and 10 at Cerbat brought their green chili burritos back to the lunch line and said their food "didn't look so good," said Paula Loomis, Kingman Unified School District director of food services.

"There's no way we could have known they were bad," Loomis said.

The burritos were purchased from Las Cabos Mexican Foods, a wholesale frozen food distributor. The burritos come from the company prepackaged in cellophane that contains colorful graphics, making it impossible to tell if something is wrong with the burritos, Loomis said. The burritos are cooked in those packages as well.

The burritos are shipped on a refrigerator truck where they are kept at 10-degrees below zero. They are transferred to the freezers - which are also kept at 10 below - at KUSD's central kitchen. The day before the burritos are to be served, they're taken out of the freezers and put in a thaw box, which sits at about 36-38 degrees. The day they're served they're cooked in the central kitchen to 160 degrees, and then taken to each of the schools where their temperature is taken once when they get there and once before they're served, Loomis said.

Representatives of Las Cabos told Loomis the only way the burritos could've molded is if they were left in the open for five days or in the refrigerator for 10.

"That's impossible," Loomis said. "They go straight from the truck to the freezer until the day before they're served."

KUSD has an extremely large freezer in its central kitchen, Loomis said. There are also plenty of people working in there who wouldn't allow something to sit out, she added.

The district's food services are inspected twice a year by the county health department and receive excellent scores, Loomis said. Also, KUSD food services was inspected by the School Meals Initiative and the Coordinated Review Effort in January, receiving "excellent" ratings both times.

The district has used Las Cabos for years, Loomis said, and nothing like this has happened before. Las Cabos is looking into the incident on its own as well. Loomis said she didn't want to throw the company under the bus, but maintained that KUSD is not a fault for this incident.

When the moldy burritos started being brought back to the lunch line by students, Loomis explained that food service workers stopped serving burritos from the batch. New burritos were cooked, what was thought to be the bad batch was thrown away and students received new burritos.

"These were the last of the burritos," Loomis said. "They're gone for the year."

It was an isolated incident, Loomis said. No one got sick, and the situation has been rectified, she added.

According to the United States Department of Agriculture, some molds are dangerous because they cause allergic reactions and respiratory problems. A few molds - in the right conditions - produce "mycotoxins," which are poisonous substances that can make you sick. Mycotoxins are found primarily in grain and nut crops, but are also known to be on other forms of produce.

It's also worth noting that cutting visible mold off of food doesn't necessarily make it safe to eat. What you see on the surface of food is only part of what's going on.