aka The Slow Cook
The mystery of the grilled cheese sandwich served at my daughter's elementary school--heated in its own plastic wrapper in the school kitchen's steamer--has finally been solved.
We didn't know where this sandwich came from or what was in it because the wrapper gives none of that information. But I was finally able to find the packing box the sandwiches arrive in (72 sandwiches in a box, weighing 22.55 pounds) and all was revealed.
The sandwiches are made by a company called Integrated Food Service located in Gardena, CA, outside Los Angeles. That's right: this grilled cheese sandwich travels 3,000 miles frozen so that it can be re-heated and served on the steam tables in D.C. Public Schools.
"We manufacture products for Schools and their Distributors in approximately 40 States as well as produce a wide variety of items for our private-label, retail customers.," says the company's website. "Our product mix consists of Grilled Cheese Sandwiches, Hot Dogs, Breakfast Items and Mexican Items including Quesadillas, Chalupas and Taco Sticks. We also manufacture pre-wrapped Hamburgers and Cheeseburgers and offer a complete Beef line of precooked Hamburgers, Sausage Patties, Beef Crumbles and Taco Meat."
"Our unbeatable 'Hot Off The Grill' brand offers a variety of delicious, nutritious Grilled Cheese Sandwiches. We bake our bread fresh daily for the freshest, cheesiest sandwiches! They come in colorful ovenable packaging or bulk. Serve daily as a vegetarian option with tomato soup! Our whole grain sandwiches are made with UltraGrain®, by Con Agra Foods."
Integrated Food Service is on a list of 112 manufacturers approved by the U.S. Department of Agriculture to convert donated commodity products into processed convenience foods. That means schools can choose to use the commodity credits they earn serving federally-reimbursed meals to "buy" cheese and, rather than messing with it themselves, have it "diverted" to Los Angeles and turned into "Hot Off the Grill" sandwiches.
Of course, the schools pay hard currency for the processing and the shipping, an arrangement that's actually encouraged by the USDA. In the District of Columbia, all of these details are managed by the school system's hired food services provider--Chartwell's--which charges additional fees to run the program.
Integrated Food lists these ingredients in the grilled cheese sandwich:
"Whole grain bread: water, whole wheat flour, enriched bread flour (bleached wheat flour, malted barley flour, niacin, reduced iron, Thiamine mononitrate, riboflavin, folic acid), bread base (sugar, soy oil, dextrose, salt, wheat flour, mono & diglycerides, calcium stearoyl lactylate, wheat gluten, calcium sulfate, diacetyl tartanic acid, esters of mono & diglycerides, ammonium sulfate, ethoxylated mono & diglycerides, guar gum, ascorbic acid, monocalcium phosphate, potassium lodite, enzyme, calcium peroxide), sugar, yeast, wheat gluten, calcium proponate (preservative). Processed American cheese: reduced fat American cheese (milk, salt, cheese cultures, enzymes), water, nonfat dry milk, whey, cream, sodium citrate, salt, sorbic acid (added as a preservative), soy lecithin (non-sticking agent), APO carotenal (if colored). Soybean oil. THIS PRODUCT MAY CONTAIN COMMODITY CHEESE DONATED BY THE UNITED STATES DEPARTMENT OF AGRICULTURE.