BURKE, Va. (WJLA) - Six-year-old Parker Tootill is at home with his mother after a scary incident happened at Nativity Catholic School in Burke.
The kindergartner was at lunch in the school's cafeteria when he took a gulp of his favorite — a TruMoo 8-ounce Fat-Free Chocolate Milk.
"When I took a drink, it actually burned my throat like there was a 100 fires in it," Parker told ABC7 News' 7 On Your Side Investigative Reporter Scott Taylor.
"Was it chocolate milk or white milk?" asked Taylor.
"Ah ... none of those, it was a green type," said Parker.
Parker alerted staff and all the milk was set aside.
Theresa Tootill, Parker’s mother, then received a quick phone call from the school.
"I was shocked. When you send your kid to school, you don't expect when the school gives them milk it isn't going to be anything else but milk," said Theresa.
The milk came from Lehigh Valley Dairy Farms in Lansdale, Pennsylvania, owned by Dean Foods, which is based in Dallas.
Theresa Tootill said a representative from Dean Foods told her Parker drank milk accidentally tainted with a chemical solution the plant uses to clean processing equipment.
"When I got off the phone with him, I was enraged," said Theresa.
In records obtained by the 7 On Your Side I-Team, the Virginia Department of Agriculture & Consumer Services reports the school's nurse said the milk smelled like bleach. Several students tasted it and one child felt ill.
A letter from Lehigh Valley's plant manager to the Pennsylvania State Health Department says the solution it uses is a food-grade sanitizer. It's called Vortexx. 7 On Your Side checked and, according to ECOLAB, a world leader in food safety, when Vortexx is diluted, it shouldn't hurt anyone if ingested.
Dean Foods told the I-Team the plant flushes its equipment with a safe, food-grade sanitizer during a switchover from making white milk to chocolate milk. Through operator error, some of the sanitizer ended up in milk cartons delivered to Parker's elementary school.
Dean Foods says it is retraining its staff to take more test samples as the milk is being processed. Below is Dean Foods' statement:
"On November 15, about 40 half-pint cartons of chocolate milk were delivered to the School of Nativity that contained food grade sanitizer. There is no health risk, but the incident is clearly not in keeping with our high quality standards. Based on our findings, some milk cartons at our Lansdale, Pennsylvania, plant were inadvertently delivered to the school instead of discarded after being filled with a solution of water mixed with food grade sanitizer, which was being used to sanitize the production line between white milk and chocolate milk. The school immediately notified the proper authorities once the issue was discovered and the milk was gathered from the students. To prevent this from happening again, the plant has doubled the number of cartons that are thrown out after the sanitizing process begins. We apologized to the Tootill family and the school.
The sanitizer is approved by the EPA for use in food production. The sanitizer’s main active ingredients are hydrogen peroxide and acetic acid (vinegar). Our test results found the water solution in the cartons in question contained a concentration of sanitizer less than .2%. Levels of hydrogen peroxide appear to be present at a maximum concentration of .01%. For comparison, over-the-counter mouthwash contains up to 3% hydrogen peroxide. Though there is no health risk, consumption of this solution could certainly create an unpleasant taste.
Reace Smith, APR
Dean Foods Company
Director, Corporate Communications"
Theresa Tootill said over the phone that Lehigh Valley did offer her an apology and something extra.
"'I'm authorized to give you a $50 check.' I said, 'I don't want your money. I want to make sure this doesn't happen to another child,"' said Theresa.
Nativity Catholic School is no longer doing business with Lehigh Valley and is buying milk from a company that provides clear cartons. Below is the school’s statement:
"As of the day of the incident (November 21, 2017), Nativity Catholic School stopped purchasing milk from Lehigh Valley Dairy Farms. Since then, Nativity Catholic School has been purchasing gallons of milk from Safeway or other stores and pouring individual cups of milk for students, and has contracted a new milk company. Cloverland Farms Dairy begins delivery January 2018, and provides individual servings of milk in clear plastic bottles.
Director of Media Relations
The Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture says the last time it inspected Lehigh Valley last November, it didn't find any violations.