Parents of children who attend 14 Harford County public schools were warned by school officials Thursday night that their children may have eaten a pizza product that is subject to a voluntary recall because of possible E. coli bacteria contamination.
The affected schools are 12 elementary schools around the county and two secondary schools. The school system said the product, Pepperoni Pizzatas, has been removed from its food inventory, along with all products by the same manufacturer, Rich Products Corp. of Buffalo, N.Y. Some students at the affected schools did consume the pizza product as recently as last Wednesday, April 3, a school system spokesperson said.
No sicknesses from the tainted pizza product or others made by Rich Products have been reported in Maryland, Harford County public health officials said Friday.
Reached Tuesday, county school and health officials monitoring the situation said there were still no cases of sickness reported.
"Our Nurse Coordinator reports that we have not seen an increase in visits to the nurses office with diarrheal illness," Teri Kranefeld, manager of communications for the school system, wrote in an e-mail. "In addition, the Harford County Health Department reported to us that there have been no reported cases of E. Coli 0121 in the county. Our school nurses will continue to monitor the situation."
William Wiseman, public information officer for the Harford County Health Department, also said his agency had received no reports of cases of E. coli-related illnesses.
"Since anyone infected would be expected to develop symptoms within 24 to 72 hours after eating contaminated food, we hope this is an indication that the risk of illness has passed," Wiseman said.
The affected schools were: Aberdeen Middle, Bakerfield Elementary, Bel Air Elementary, Bel Air High School, Edgewood High School, Forest Hill Elementary, Forest Lakes Elementary, Fountain Green Elementary, Havre de Grace Elementary, Homestead/Wakefield Elementary, Lisby Hillsdale Elementary, Meadowvale Elementary, Ring Factory Elementary and William S. James Elementary.
Parents were notified by a telephone alert message that Kranefeld sent out about 7 p.m. Thursday. The message, which was also posted on the school system's website read: "We are reaching out to you make you aware that our Food and Nutrition Office was notified late yesterday evening that Pepperoni Pizzatas, a food item served in the cafeterias of the schools mentioned, has been voluntarily recalled by the product manufacturer for potential E. coli contamination All products by the manufacturer were immediately removed.
"According to the Center for Disease Control, there have been no reported cases of illness in Maryland. However, if your child consumed Pepperoni Pizzatas yesterday, Wednesday, April 3 and is experiencing diarrhea, please notify your health care provider.
"Symptoms typically develop within 24 - 72 hours following consumption. We will continue to work with the Harford County Health Department and we will send any additional information they deem appropriate home with your child tomorrow. Thank you for your time and attention," the message concluded.
Shortly after noon on Friday, the health department issued the following statement: "The Harford County Health Department is maintaining regular contact with the Maryland Department of Health & Mental Hygiene, as well as with the Harford County Public School System, as we are continue to carefully monitor this situation. Of the 24 cases reported nationwide thus far, there are no reported cases in Harford County, nor in Maryland. Therefore, outside of continued surveillance, no additional public health response is warranted at this time."
Kranefeld said late Friday morning that the school system was notified of the recall late Wednesday. Upon receiving the list of recalled products, she said, "we had to see what products we might have," in explaining why the initial notification was not made to parents until Thursday evening.
She said the Pepperoni Pizzatas product was the only one of 23 institutional and retail products listed in the recall that was in the school system's food inventory; however, as a precaution the school system removed all Rich products from the schools.
A letter was sent Friday with students at the 14 schools as a follow-up to the Thursday phone alert. Kranefeld later said the original notice to parents had erroneously said the tainted pizza was served at Prospect Mill Elementary in Bel Air, and the letter to parents of students at that school would explain the mistake.
According to an article published Thursday by the Clarion-Ledger of Jackson, Miss., the Rich Food products subject to the national recall were manufactured at a plant in Waycross, Ga., between July 1, 2011 and March 29, 2012, and then distributed nationwide for restaurant/institutional and consumer use. Because the products are frozen, federal food safety officials have concerns people may have them in their home freezers, the Clarion-Ledger article noted.