School Cafeteria Violations

By Monica Buchanan
|  Tuesday, Feb 26, 2013  |  Updated 12:19 AM EDT
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The Troubleshooters took a look at school cafeteria inspection reports from districts across the state and found violation that may make your stomach turn.

The Troubleshooters took a look at school cafeteria inspection reports from districts across the state and found violation that may make your stomach turn.

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Do you know what's in your child's school cafeteria?  A check of school cafeteria inspection reports from several different cities turned up things like cockroaches, mice droppings, even a fruit fly infestation.

In Hartford, inspectors noted mice droppings at Martin Luther King Jr. Elementary Schools for the last 3 years.  A city inspector ordered rodent control in 2010 to eliminate the mice immediately, yet droppings were still noted in 4 subsequent inspections.  The most recent report of mouse feces was in January of last year, although the inspector wrote they were probably old.

Hartford's food service director, Lonnie Burt, admits there are challenges at some of the schools, especially those in older buildings.

"We certainly have infractions.  We don't want infractions.  I think what people really need to understand or what I'd like to say is that we want all of our inspections to be 100, but that's not always possible," said Burt.

Inspection reports show mice are also a problem at Hartford Public High School.  Dropping were found in the school's food dispensing area as recently as last September.

At Classical Magnet in Hartford, inspectors noted mouse droppings in the food prep and dispensing area of the cafeteria during all 3 inspections last year.

"I'm surprised that this was never told to parents because we do go to parent senate meetings," said Barbara Roskinski, a Classical Magnet parent.

But food safety experts will tell you, rodent droppings aren't the most concerning violation in the cafeteria.  They are most concerned with food temperatures.  UConn dietitian, Amy Dicioccio, says food temperature issues are the kind of high risk violations that can make anyone sick.

"You have to be concerned with the organism living in it.  Most likely you're going to see gastro intestinal symptoms, nausea, vomiting and cramping," said Dicioccio.

In September 2011, Hartford health inspectors found food temperature violations at the Breakthrough II school.  They noted the reach-in cooler temperature was 57 degrees.  By law, it should be no warmer than 45 degrees.  The school was also flagged for not having soap at the kitchen's hand sink.

"Any refrigeration issue where food has not been kept at temperature is immediately discarded," said Burt.

Inspectors also found mold build up on the freezer door.  It is a persistent problem at the school and one that was first flagged 9 months earlier.  Burt says it's promptly fixed after every inspection in which it's noted as a problem.

"On a very consistent basis we have to address that issue.  That was addressed very carefully and then unfortunately had occurred again," Burt told the Troubleshooters.

Burt says she has never had a report of any student contracting a food borne illness and says inspections have greatly improved since she took over 8 years ago.

Meanwhile in New Haven, city inspectors found chicken on the lunch line at the Nathan Hale School at a temperature that carries bacteria.  Inspectors returned 9 months later and discovered the same problem.  It was not an issue though during the school's last inspection, though some parents are still concerned.

"As a parent, I feel like we have enough to worry about and when we send our kids to school we assume it's a safe and healthy environment," said Kristie Schrade of New Haven.

Food safety experts say inspectors play a big role in ensuring kid's safety, but a quick check of inspection reports around the state found yet another problem.  Many school cafeterias aren't being inspected as often as they should and are falling short of state mandated inspections.

In New Haven, most schools should be inspected 3 to 4 times a year, but inspectors are only visiting most schools one or twice a year tops.

"We try to do two inspections within the school year.  That way we provide public health services to the student population and also provide inspections forms that the school system needs for its federal funding," said Paul Kowalski, New Haven's environmental health director.

In 2010, 9 school cafeterias in Stamford were never inspected.  Many schools there were only inspected once in 2011, and twice in 2012.  Local health departments point to budget cuts, fewer inspectors and a growing list of responsibilities as the main reasons for the lack of inspections.

"We provide inspections of day cares, schools, group homes.  We monitor bathing water at Lighthouse, as well as all the pools are inspected monthly by us," said Kowalski.

A spokesperson for the state Department of Public Health released this statement to the NBC Connecticut Troubleshooters, "Clearly there are challenges that some local health departments face in keeping up with their inspection schedule.  If school cafeterias are not being inspected as often as they should, we work with the local health departments to evaluate the program and determine a solution."

All New Haven school passed their most recent inspections, yet New Haven school leaders still encourage parents to get involved.

"When they come to a PTO or they come to visit the school on report card night, take a stroll on through the cafeteria to get a sense of the environment your kids are eating in.  I think they will be pleasantly surprised at what they find, " said Will Clark, the COO of the New Haven Board of Education.

Keep in mind, school cafeteria inspection reports are public record and are always available at your child's school.  Some schools even post them on the cafeteria wall.  All you have to do is ask to see them.

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