On Sunday, The Connecticut Health I Team did a write-up on the state of local health inspections of school cafeterias and the results should outrage every parent who cares about their children's food safety.
In October 2010, local health inspectors in Meriden found rodent droppings in the cafeteria of Maloney High School, as well as dirty cabinets and other health violations. Inspectors didn’t go back last year to check to see if the problems were remedied.
In Stamford last year, nine of 32 schools did not have their cafeterias inspected, with the remaining schools inspected fewer than the three times a year required under state regulations.
A similar situation occurred in New Haven, where many schools did not get the required inspections. One school, Nathan Hale School, had an inspection in March that found chicken was being served to children at a temperature that can carry bacteria. Inspectors did not go back to the school to re-inspect until December, when they found the same problem.
“There is no way we are meeting the state mandate on inspections,’’ acknowledged Paul Kowalski, New Haven’s environmental health director. “I have three sanitarians and over 1,100 food establishments to inspect.”
A C-HIT review of more than 1,700 inspection reports from 103 cities and towns in 2010 found that many local health agencies, responsible for ensuring that school cafeterias are safely preparing and serving food to children, are not meeting the state Public Health Code on mandated annual inspections. Of the 38 health agencies overseeing those towns, at least half were not meeting the state requirement, the review shows.
In addition to failing to meet the required number of inspections, the review found that timely re-inspections of cafeterias cited for violations were rare.
Also, the state Department of Public Health has not taken steps to proactively enforce state requirements on local health departments, but instead investigates complaints.
As a result, Connecticut parents know less they should about the way that food in schools is prepared and served, food safety experts said.
“We think inspections are a critical control point in controlling food borne illness,” said Sarah Klein, staff attorney for the Food Safety Program at the Center for Science in the Public Interest in Washington, DC. “We see the control of food borne illness as something that has preventive steps and reactive steps. Inspections are part of the prevention.”
CT Health I team further states that school violations ranged from "evidence of rodents and insects, to no hot water at the hand-wash sink, to no sneeze guards at the serving area, to dirty floors and walls" and that the grading system for violations are equally as troubling:
…in addition to lags in meeting inspection requirements, the system of scoring can camouflage some serious violations, the C-HIT review found. Schools with ratings in the 90s could have one or two four-point deductions, the records show. McGee Middle School in Berlin had a four-point violation for improper food temperatures but scored a 93. Honeyspot House Elementary in Stratford scored a 96 with one four-point violation in January for an equipment problem. The Stratford Health Department sent a letter to the school ordering that the violation be fixed in 10 days.
Also, some violations that the public might consider serious – such as evidence of mouse droppings or insects—are only a two-point deduction, under state rules. For example, Manchester Regional Academy scored a 97 in December 2010, despite evidence of rodent activity in the kitchen. St. Mary’s School in Branford had the same score of 97, but its only violations were a dirty stove hood grate and an empty paper towel dispenser.
Some inspectors appeared to be lenient in their scoring, noting violations in the “comments” section of reports but taking no points off the overall score. That occurred at least twice in New Britain, where an inspector noted that food was not at the correct temperature for holding before serving—but the overall scores were 98 and 99.
Although CT Health team has compiled a searchable database of 1,700 school cafeteria reports from 103 cities and towns in the state, none of the school in the greater Danbury area are listed. This begs the question, could what's happening in various areas in the state be happening here?