Mystery meat? Health department investigates maggot found in North Bergen student's lunch
NORTH BERGEN — One student at North Bergen High School on Thursday found a squirming extra ingredient in his taco salad: a live maggot.
The incident prompted the school to call in the township health department on Friday, which found that the insect likely came in a prepackaged lettuce bag supplied by a Perth Amboy-based distributor, U.S. Foods. The school complied with all food preparation and storage requirements, according to the health department's report.
Health Department Director Janet Castro said that sometimes, when multiple parties are involved in packaging, delivering and preparing food, insects can get into prepackaged food.
"It’s not highly common, but we have seen it on occasion. That’s why we don’t downplay any complaint that we get,” she said.
A representative from U.S. Foods could not immediately comment on the incident. A representative at Nu-Way Concessionaires, the school's Kearny-based vendor that bought the lettuce from U.S. Foods, said that the company is taking the incident very seriously, but that the incident was isolated.
"It's not something that we see as endemic to what we do," said Sal Valenza, Nu-Way regional director. "This is very much an isolated incident."
Maggots and other insects found in food don't pose high health risks, Castro said, but can make people sick — out of disgust, not disease.
“It’s just a disgusting, gruesome act. From a communicable disease standpoint, it’s not as high of a risk,” she said.
Castro said the health department will be following up with state health officials and U.S. Foods to make sure that the distributor is following all regulations.
The health department deemed that the incident was isolated but, to be safe, the school threw out between 10 and 20 large bags of lettuce from U.S. Foods, said Superintendent George Solter. The school learned of the incident after one student posted a video of a maggot in another's student's lunch and after receiving calls to the principal's office on Friday. The video shows what looks like a small worm or maggot squirming amid taco meat, lettuce and chips.
Solter, who has worked for the school district since 1981, said that this is the first time he's ever heard of such an incident in the North Bergen schools.
“I’ve never heard of any problems with bugs in the food,” he said. “I’ll be honest with you, I eat the cafeteria food every day.”
Students took to social media on Thursday and Friday, expressing outrage and disgust at the incident.
Don't eat lunch at NBHS http://t.co/pmfcxiokVD— MSG (@pimp_decisions) September 18, 2014
One student, who wished to remain anonymous because he feared getting into trouble with school administrators, was extremely upset by the incident but wasn't necessarily surprised. He said students have seen mice and roaches in the school, and said he found a dead mouse crammed between the wall and the radiator in the cafeteria on Friday. He sent a picture of the dead mouse to NJ.com.
"I feel as if the faculty is so in denial of what happens in this school that they will say just about anything to cover it up," he said in an email. "This school is filthy and it is time someone takes a stand."
When asked about the dead mouse, Solter said he hadn't seen it, so he couldn't confirm the student's discovery. He said that the school has exterminators come into the building once a month.