Dozens of students sickened and hospitalized after sanitizer found in milk cartons at New Jersey schools

At least 64 students were sickened and dozens were sent to hospitals after a “non-toxic consumable sanitizer” was found in milk cartons in several schools in Camden, New Jersey.

School district spokeswoman Valerie Merritt said more than 30 students had been taken to two hospitals in the area after the substance, which is colourless, was discovered on Wednesday morning, NJ Advance Media reported. Some students vomited, she said.

Camden County Police were alerted at 9.09am on Wednesday, according to police spokesman Dan Keashen. How the substance made it into the milk cartons was not immediately clear.

On Wednesday night, Camden County officials said in a statement that at least 25 students had consumed the milk “from sealed cartons with an unidentified substance that had an antiseptic-like odor to it”.

At least four schools have been impacted, officials added.

Camden County Health Officer Paschal Nwako said it “was a scary situation but thankfully, everyone who was exposed to the milk is in stable condition and either back at school or home”.

“This investigation is ongoing, and our department will get to the bottom of this situation,” Dr Nwako added. He said 11 students were taken to Virtua Our Lady of Lourdes Hospital “for examination and discharged later in the morning”.

A further 21 students were taken by bus along with a member of staff to Cooper Medical Center. They were also discharged later on Wednesday morning.

Students from the Early Childhood Development Center and Riletta T Cream Elementary School were taken to hospitals for care.

The cartons had an “antiseptic smell emanating from them,” Mr Keashen said. “Out of an abundance of caution, students were sent to” hospitals in the area.

“This morning we investigated a possible contamination of milk today at our Early Childhood Development Center. It was determined that the substance found in the cartons is a non-toxic consumable sanitizer that runs through the vendor machines prior to milk,” Camden Schools tweeted on Wednesday.

“Unfortunately, many cartons were filled with the sanitizer, sealed, and then shipped out with the milk. We pulled all milk today and NO milk will be served until the investigation is completed,” they added. “Emergency teams were dispatched to the school. No students are currently ill but were sent to the hospital as a precaution.”

Ms Merritt told NJ Advance Media that parents were contacted via “immediate robocalls, website postings and social media messaging and updates”.

“We informed our food services team not to serve any liquid dairy products as an abundance of caution until investigations are complete,” she added.

Dr Nwako said that school officials have spoken to the milk company, Guida’s Dairy, “and are also locating and removing all the potentially affected product”.

Guida’s Dairy said in a statement that they “are disposing of 1%, low-fat half-pint milk cartons with a sell by date of APR 11, after determining that a food-grade sanitizer diluted with water was inadvertently introduced during production. A chemical smell is associated with the product”.

“While we believe the product impacted is limited, out of an abundance of caution, we are disposing of any 1%, low-fat half-pint milk cartons with a sell by date of APR 11. The affected product is not available at retail outlets for consumer purchase,” the company added.

Ms Merritt said a number of agencies responded to the incident, including local police and EMS, the Camden County Health Department, a Hazmat team, food company Aramark, and the New Jersey state departments of agriculture and education.

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George Holan

George Holan is chief editor at Plainsmen Post and has articles published in many notable publications in the last decade.

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