A day after a state health official admonished school districts for “precipitously” banning apples from school menus, food service managers in several Orange County schools said their boycott will continue until they have written assurances from suppliers that the fruit is free of daminozide, a chemical used to treat some apple crops.
Meanwhile, the apple scare continued to spread Wednesday as Dade County Public Schools, the nation’s fourth-largest school district, on Wednesday joined a growing list of school systems across the nation that have banished apples and related products from lunch menus.
It follows New York City, Los Angeles, Chicago and scores of smaller districts that have removed apples, apple juice and applesauce from school cafeterias and vending machines.
In Orange County, 23 of 28 school districts had imposed the ban on fresh apples and other apple products, some going as far as banishing cakes with apple filling from their fast-food menus.
“I would feel more comfortable receiving verification from my vendors and the state” before resuming apple sales, said Bea Nash, food services director for the Anaheim Union High School District, who oversees meals for 10,000 students a day as well as for elementary students in the Anaheim City School District.
“We certainly have many other alternative choices of fruits and vegetables to serve, so why take a risk?” Nash said.
In the Santa Ana Unified School District, the county’s largest with 40,028 students, food services director Carol Godfrey said her position has not changed.
“The ban will remain until I have in writing, from all of my distributors, that any apple product that we serve is free of (daminozide) after testing,” she said.
“I am in constant contact with my produce person,” Godfrey said. “Things look good. But I want to have it in writing.”
Slowly, however, several school districts are allowing some apple products onto their menus, but more because they have received confirmation that the products are safe to eat than because State Health Services Director Kenneth W. Kizer on Tuesday said districts were overreacting by not serving the fruit to students.
At least two Southland districts--San Marino and Antelope Valley Union--said they have decided to return apples to school menus today after consulting outside experts and vendors who told them that daminozide levels are not harmful or were not found in the products they use. The chemical has been linked to cancer in laboratory studies using rats.
And in other districts, such as Culver City, Newhall Elementary and El Monte Union High School District, officials said they are still serving apple juice because they are convinced that it does not contain daminozide in dangerous levels.
But most districts said they are refraining from serving fresh apples and apple products until they receive official word from the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the state Department of Education that doing so will not pose a health risk to children.
In the Orange Unified School District, food services director Judy Ross said she had returned apples and applesauce to the menu, but only because the vendors had assured her they are free of the chemical, also known as Alar.
“I’m still waiting to hear about my apple juice,” which is provided by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, Ross said.
“I feel, too, we have way overreacted,” she said, adding that the ban will remain in a modified form until she receives confirmations about all of her apple products.
Some food services managers in Orange County had said the ban spread like wildfire, even though it is still debatable what the chemical’s long-term risks are, mostly because large districts such as Los Angeles Unified had banned the fruit at their schools.
Jack Hastings, food and nutrition director for Dade County schools, which serve 163,000 lunches a day, echoed that thought: “When New York, Atlanta, Chicago and Los Angeles made the decision (to stop serving apples), we decided maybe we better do the same thing.”
He said Dade will continue the ban “until we get some answer from a regulatory agency one way or another” about the safety of apples treated with daminozide.
In the San Marino Unified School District, after receiving verification from suppliers that their products do not contain the chemical, officials decided Wednesday that it was safe to start serving apples and apple products again, food service director Susan Delgado said.
Likewise, students in the Newhall Elementary School District, who have not been offered any apples since Monday, also will start seeing the fruit again today, food services director Terry Custer said.
Custer said he consulted the USDA and the Toxic Information Center, a San Francisco-based group funded by the state Department of Health Services, and is now convinced that it is “better to eat the apples than not eat them. . . . I’m satisfied now . . . that the whole thing has been blown slightly out of proportion.”
Child nutrition director Geri Dee said the Newhall district’s five schools have continued to serve apple juice on demand to students who, for health or other reasons, do not drink milk.
William Caldwell, food services director at the Capistrano Unified School District, said he was glad to see Kizer take a position on the apple scare because districts were reacting in a vacuum of information and leadership. He said his district decided not to ban apples from the menu, but only after Caldwell verified that the district’s produce was free of the chemical.
“I’m just hoping something like this doesn’t happen again, because it’s a lot of work, emotional work, that you have assurances that what you’re doing for the children of your community is safe,” Caldwell said.
“I don’t think there’s anything more important than providing a safe meal that children want to eat.”
Contributing to this article were researchers Tracy Thomas and Shawn Griggs.