Just weeks after Chobani was forced to conduct a nationwide recall of products due to mold, the company will begin a $300,000 contract to supply yogurt for a pilot program hosted by the National Lunch Program. The program will be hosted in Idaho, Arizona, Tennessee and New York, where 230 school districts have already ordered more than 3,300 cases of the company’s yogurt products.
Chobani announced the news on its website on Wednesday, writing, “We believe that everyone, especially kids, deserves access to healthy food options -- that’s why we’re excited to launch a historic pilot program with K-12 schools this fall semester.”
Federal and state officials have said that Chobani’s Sept. 5 recall won’t have an impact on the pilot program. The shipment of yogurts will not arrive in schools for another few weeks and will be manufactured at Chobani’s plant in New York, not in Idaho, which produced yogurt cups tainted with mucor circinelloides, a mold commonly found in dairy products.
Chobani’s statement added: “In light of our voluntary recall, we want to clarify that none of the yogurt destined for schools has been affected. The yogurt for the pilot is being produced at our facility in New York State, while the product included in our voluntary recall is isolated to our Idaho facility. We remain committed to crafting the highest quality products made with only natural ingredients and are thrilled to bring our Greek Yogurt to students.”
According to NBC News, the initiative is intended as an experiment to gauge how Greek-style yogurt might fit in to the National Lunch Program. Idaho and Arizona are reportedly planning to use the trial period to determine not only whether Greek-style yogurt would be an efficient way of integrating more protein into students’ diets, but also if it would be economical.
New York has also enthusiastically pushed for the yogurt to be included in the nationwide program. U.S. Sen. Charles Schumer said, “This is the next step in ensuring that New York school children have access to a more nutritious, protein-rich product, which benefits our New York Greek yogurt producers and dairy farmers to boot.”
In the next few weeks, elementary, middle and high schools across Tennessee are scheduled to receive 50,000 pounds of blueberry and strawberry yogurts. Nashville Public Radio first reported the plans for the program back in early August, well before the company suffered a PR disaster at the hands of the recall, which has resulted in at least 223 complaints to the Food and Drug Administration.
Chobani’s performance in the pilot program will be reviewed by the U.S. Department of Agriculture in December. "USDA is aware of the situation and will work with the company to ensure products delivered to schools are healthy and safe," USDA spokeswoman Brooke Hardison said.
Chobani spokeswoman Amy Juaristi said that the recall had not affected the pilot project, telling NBC in an e-mail, "There is no concern regarding the recall.”