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Green ham reports, photos put Unicoi County High School cafeteria under scrutiny

Sue Guinn Legg • Mar 28, 2018 at 12:20 AM

ERWIN — Some widely shared social media images and allegations that Unicoi County High School served students green, spoiled ham on Friday has brought the school cafeteria under scrutiny.

Director of Schools John English said the state health department conducted an unannounced inspection of the UCHS cafeteria Monday morning after the photographs and allegations that students were disciplined for complaining about the spoiled meat were posted on multiple social media sites over the weekend.

According to English, the inspectors found no health concerns, took no action and left the 99 percent health inspection rating given to the cafeteria on Feb. 14 in place.

After spending two days looking into the issue, English said Tuesday he is continuing to investigate but is “confident in the quality of the school system’s food service department and their judgment of the quality of food.”

English told the Johnson City Press, “We had one student report a molded breakfast sandwich Friday morning. Our high school cafeteria manager inspected the meat and said there were brown spots on the ham but tried to explain that ham when cooked will have those spots.

“She reports she saw nothing green on any meat. We had no other reports or complaints. There were no reports of sickness from any staff or students.”

English said cafeteria staff advised him the meat was actually “turkey ham,” in which “brown spots are normal.”

Addressing allegations that students were disciplined for complaining about the ham, English said, “There has been some misinformation out there about students being placed in in-school suspension for voicing concerns about the food. That is certainly not true.

“Again, I have spoken to our high school administrative staff as well as our food service department and, other than the singular report, they all said they received no other complaints of sickness or otherwise regarding the issue.

“Safety is our No. 1 priority, so we take and will continue to take all the necessary steps to ensure food safety for our students,” English said. “No students have or ever will be disciplined for reporting safety concerns. We appreciate these issues being brought to our attention. We welcome any concerns from our students and parents.”

Mike Ryman, whose 17-year-old son Andrew is a junior at the high school, said he posted a photo of the ham sent to him by his son on Friday on his personal Facebook page on Saturday after the school board failed to respond to an email he sent Friday regarding the meat.

Ryman said when he had still not received a response to email Tuesday morning, he sent the photos to the Johnson City Press but did not contact the health department or any other local news outlets.

In his email to the Press, Ryman wrote, “My son attends Unicoi County High School. Friday morning he sent me a picture of his breakfast sandwich he was served there. It was a ham and cheese croissant. The ham was quite obviously bad.

“Ham only turns green when it’s bad. If you eat it, it would very well make you very sick. His friend told someone not to eat it and his friend got in trouble for it. I sent a picture of the sandwich to the school board asking for an explanation before I sent it on to a newspaper. They have ignored me.”

English said he was unaware of Ryman’s email until he was asked about it by the Press early Tuesday afternoon. Later Tuesday English said he had since learned the email was diverted to a spam file, or electronic junk mail file, because it lacked a subject line and because of specific words contained in the email.

English said he attempted to call Ryman after receiving his contact information from the Press but had not been able to reach him as of late Tuesday afternoon. He said he hoped to learn who the student was who reportedly “got in trouble,” because he could not find a single administrator or cafeteria staff member aware of any student “disciplined or even talked to” about the single complaint the cafeteria received.

Andrew Ryman told the Johnson City Press he was not with his friend when his friend showed the ham to a cafeteria worker, but “heard he got in trouble for telling people not to eat it.”

“He was told it was perfectly fine and not to tell anyone else. That’s all I know,” Andrew Ryman said.

Andrew Ryman said he ate “a bite or two” of the sandwich before he noticed the meat. “It tasted bad, pretty bad, and within 30 minutes I felt sick to my stomach for the rest of the day. Fortunately I did not throw up. But, if I’m not mistaken, I heard someone threw up and went home.”

English told the Press he has seen the photographs shared on social media and also has questions about the photographs.

“One student reported it on Friday. There were no other complaints and there was no sickness. Staff ate it. Other students ate it. We had health inspectors in and they found no issue. We’re looking into it and there’s not a lot of information to go on. We’re still investigating,” English said.

Email Sue Guinn Legg at [email protected]. Follow her on Twitter @sueleggjcpress. Like her on Facebook at facebook.com/sueleggjcpress.

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