Despite complaints, Jersey City BOE approves pre-plated meal contract

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The Jersey City Board of Education approved the contract with Preferred Meals Inc., a Maramount Food Corp., despite numerous complaints from parents, students and a petition with over 1,000 signatures against the pre-plated meal company.

Gina Verdibello, a concerned parent, presented the petition to the board and directly read a few quotes that she collected.

“Adam Ali says I’m currently a Jersey City district high school student and the food they serve are really bad, a list of flaws, undercooking, flavorless, disgusting.”

Verdibello also read a quote from a mother who shared the story of her son complaining that there is not enough breakfast for every student and milk being served warm and even expired.

Also during her comments, she mentioned the food violations cited this past June which included expired afternoon snacks, unwashed fruits being served and FDA regulations that weren’t met for food being served at breakfast and lunch.

Two executives and two legal counselors from Preferred Meals Inc. also spoke during the public comment portion of the meeting.

Craig Balestras, the Regional Vice President of Preferred Meals Inc. NY, NJ, & LI, said “Preferred Meals is ready, willing and able to service the students of this community on the 1st day of school.”

Balestras explained that the company attended the Superintendent and Parent meeting in January and listened to the community who asked for more vegetarian options.

“We came back in May and did a tasting and it was very well received,” he explained.

The regional vice president more importantly pointed out that he and his team are not typically made aware of some issues that arise in the schools.

“When issues do occur, and issues do occur in food service, we are not notified.”

Bryan Cave attorney Ari Weisbrot, who is representing Preferred Meals, responded to the petitions that Verdibello presented in the meeting.

“The problem with petitions and these kinds of reports is we don’t know what the basis of it is, for example there seems to be a dissatisfaction with the after school snacks, that was one of the items I heard, but Preferred Meals doesn’t provide the after school snacks in this city.”

Weisbrot also talked about the dissatisfaction with the high school meals, but told the board that Preferred Meals only provide sorted breakfasts.

Jersey City Superintendent of Schools Dr. Marcia Lyles claims she has informed the vendor of certain situations they needed to know about.

“Where it has been found there as a problem with something that Preferred Meals did, they were notified.”

Board members all agreed and stressed the importance of having a liaison between the schools and the contracted food vendor so they can more accurately oversee the quality of food that is served to the students.

Additionally, Jersey City BOE Vice President Sudhan Thomas jokingly suggested to have Preferred Meals cater for the next caucus meeting so members of the board can also taste the pre-plated meals.

The contract passed 5-2(1) with Trustees Lorenzo Richardson and Angel Valentin voting against, and Gerald Lyons abstaining. Trustee Vidya Gangadin was absent.