Tuesday, June 29, 2010

What's for Lunch: Grilled Cheese from Los Angeles

By Ed Bruske
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.


  1. How did we get to this point where the government encouraged the removal of kitchens from schools and the transport of packaged crap??? Was it concerns over food poisoning/incompetent preparers? They were so short sighted! It makes me so angry.

  2. Wow - grilled cheese is about the easiest meal a person can make. Hard to believe it's much easier (or cheaper) to buy and heat these packaged snacks rather than make them from scratch (i.e. bread, butter, cheese).

  3. Why is there ketchup on the styrofoam!! tray? Oh....that must be a vegetable...

  4. I have to give them credit. There's veggies, an apple and wholesome milk.

    Plus, this product has whole wheat bread and cheese. A good vegetarian meal.

    The ketchup is kind of silly but I guess it's to flavor the plain cheese sammie. They didn't have tomato soup?

    I agree though that the 'prepared and shipped' cheese and bread deal is silly. The cooks at school didn't have time to slap some bread and cheese together?

  5. No grill/flat top in the school kitchen, so no real grilled cheese, right? The lunch staff couldn't make a "real" grilled cheese if they wanted to and had the ingredients.

    What gets me is they reheat the sandwiches in the plastic they come in...can we get the run down on just how healthy that is supposed to be?
    did you count how many ingredients for a sandwich?!! amazing.

  6. While I understand your concerns, before you all start to criticize the lunches at the schools you need to understand the conditions they have to operate under.
    1. They have several hundreds of children to feed in an unlimited period of time thanks to the schools cutting down the lunch periods.
    2. They have limited budgets. Parents expect to get these lunches for free or pay less than $2.00 for a meal yet expect that it be scratched cooked? Can they do that at home?.....NO!!!! Yet they probably take their kids or allow them to go to McDonalds or one of the other fast food places which have MUCH less healthier products than most of what the schools offer.
    3. That Grilled Cheese sandwich has Whole Grain Bread, reduced fat and sodium cheese, and a light bread coating (soy oil) which is much better than butter! 30% calories from fat and one grain serving. It's prepared in the wrap for several reasons. 1. Food Safety. 2. By the time it goes through the rigorous process that the schools need to use to get the product to the safe internal temperature and hold enough servings to supply the kids in the limited period of time the wrapped product ends up FAR better than unwrapped.
    3. Cost - Regardless how many miles this product traveled, the schools go through a detailed bidding process that assures that they procure the best products available at
    the best price. That Grilled Cheese was sold to the customer for appx. .40. Can you do that? Also, the government regulations require that there be two ounces of cheese in this product. That is WAY too much cheese for any sandwich yet you have to meet the regulations. If you people are going to mud sling it would only be fair that you educate yourselves with the facts and see the whole picture!!