CRAIGHEAD COUNTY, AR (KAIT) - Most of us send our kids to school to eat in the cafeteria. Like restaurants, schools get a visit from the Health Department. In a Region 8 News investigation, we dug into the health reports from Craighead County Schools.
You might not realize, but a lunch lady is a tough job. They provide meals for hundred of kids and facility each day. But it's requires more than just cooking. And when it comes to providing lunches for kids, these kitchens are held to high standards.
"It's like a white glove inspection," said Brookland Elementary Food Service Director Brenda Crow.
When a health inspector comes to look at any food service facility it's no joke. And when it comes to your child's school cafeteria it's no different. The results are posted for all eyes to see.
Region 8 News pulled 3 years worth of inspections from all 32 Craighead County schools and found some things we could not ignore. Things like a rodent and rodent droppings in the dry storage closet at Riverside West Elementary in 2011.
We turned to Craighead County Health Inspector Danny Eddy for answers. "I'm sure parents would be concerned about that and it's an issue that they would need to address immediately," said Eddy.
But what might surprise you, rodent droppings are not considered a major violation. "Insects and rodents are not a high item in causing food-borne outbreaks," said Eddy and he says that's according the FDA and CDC.
From what we found only 5 instances involved some type of rodent activity, but how about weevil activity in 3 bags of cornmeal at Riverside East in 2012. "The FDA food regulations does allow a certain amount of insect parts in the cereal that you may of eaten this morning," said Eddy.
Eddy does say any grain, like mill or flour, has insect eggs inside. He says as long as it's cooked, it's not going to cause a food-borne illness. The inspector recommended the staff throw out those bags of cornmeal.
Of course, remember these were three years worth of inspections, and the problems were handled immediately. From 2010 to 2013, there were 214 inspections, inspectors found 54 non-critical violations and 3 critical violations. All three critical violations dealt with an ice machine.
"I would not call that a surprise. That mold grows very, very fast," said Eddy.
We took a trip to the Brookland Elementary Cafeteria and met with Food Service Director Brenda Crow.
It's an industry she takes pride in and has for over 30 years. And even with that experience, her kitchen is one that received a critical violation.
"Up inside above the door there was a little plate in there that had some dust on it and we didn't realize it was there," said Crow.
Crow said they immediately took the ice out, and clean the machine before the inspector left the building. "Now we do it at least once a week," said Crow.
Because schools are typically cook-to-serve, Eddy says they seldom find any major problems and it reduces the chance of any food-borne illness.
"The worst you're going to find is perhaps they need to clean the dust off a fan. Usually, you don't find anything at all," said Eddy.
Visual and Performing Arts Magnet School is one of the schools with no violations in the past three years. We decided to check them out.
"It's a rule that everyone in our kitchen has to wear a hair net," said Food Service Director Evelyn Lawson.
She described the rules of her kitchen. "She's wearing glove…that's required. They change their gloves between 10 to 20 times, maybe more in a day around here," said Lawson. She said her staff knows the rules and they hold each other accountable.
"We don't let them get lax. You know, we're on top of it. They (kids and parents) need to know it comes from a clean kitchen. And even our boys and girls know they can't come back some far without a hair net," said Lawson.
Out of the 32 school Cafeterias in Craighead County, 10 of them had no violations. But how clean is your kitchen? Amanda Hanson will show us how to do the same white glove inspection in your home Thursday night.
10 Craighead County School with no health violations in our 3 year investigation:
- Douglas MacArthur Jr. High
- International Studies Magnet School
- Nettleton Junior High School
- Riverside High School
- Valley View Elementary School
- University Heights Elementary School
- Math & Science Magnet School
- Visual & Performing Arts Magnet School
- Nettleton Fox Meadows Intermediate School
- Nettleton Fox Meadows Elementary School