LARAMIE, Wyo. - Schools are focusing on new requirements to bring more fruits and vegetables to kids' diets, but one Wyoming school is in a lot of trouble after introducing a raw fruit that is toxic until cooked.
When hundreds of adventurous eaters in one Laramie, Wyo., school district tried the raw yucca as part of a school program to introduce healthy fruits and vegetables, they got more of an adventure than they bargained for.
"It was gross," said Alexander Cole, 4, whose mother was happy, for once, that he is a picky eater.
"I asked how big of a bite he had because the school lets them have a 'No-Thank-You Bite,' so he hadn't had a very big bite," said Amber Cole. "We contacted our physician, but he didn't get sick."
However, more than a dozen students did become sick, and 15 preschool aged students were taken to the hospital as a precaution after eating the poisonous yucca plant roots, according to district administrators.
"Concerns were raised this morning about the bite-sized pieces of yucca," said Mike Hamel, assistant superintendent with the Albany County School District. "We communicated with the Center for Disease Control and found out the yucca needs to be cooked to be eaten safely. At this time, we believe it was uncooked."
The school said about 300 students in five schools ate the bite-sized samples, which were immediately pulled from remaining schools, but not all became sick.
Symptoms from eating the toxic plant can include stomach aches, nausea, cramping and diarrhea.
The yucca was served as part of a grant-funded program to encourage children to try fruits and vegetables as a healthy snack.
"We've been running it for a year and a half," said Hamel. "It's been a good program to help kids learn that there are other things they could eat in their diet that are healthy for them. We hope the benefits of the program outside of what happened today continue in the future."
Hamel said the yucca came from a private contractor, Sodexo, that provides food for hospitals and schools all over the world.
Sodexo has not responded to our requests for comment.
Hamel said it appears that no students were seriously ill, but the district is paying for any medical expenses related to the incident.
"The $10,000 question is 'How did this happen?'" said Hamel. "We're going to have to have conversations with our food service provider to try to answer that."
Parents in Laramie told KMGH they just want to know it won't happen again, because getting their kids to eat vegetables is hard enough.
"It's shocking that this could happen," said Amber Cole.