Twice each year, health department inspectors make unannounced visits to school cafeterias to ensure the spaces where thousands of local students have breakfast and lunch each day are clean.
The cafeterias typically serve hundreds or thousands of meals to students and staff each day. In order to pass the inspections, food service employees need to multitask, cleaning dishes and food preparation areas immediately after they’re used, while also watching for burned-out lightbulbs or drains that aren’t emptying as quickly as they need to.
“It’s manageable,” Franklin College vice president for business and finance Dan Schluge said. “The key is to have fresh food in a clean environment.”
Periodically something gets missed, such as an exhaust fan that’s collected too much dust or condensation from a freezer that isn’t draining properly — these are noncritical violations. But occasionally health inspectors find critical violations, such as meat not being cooled to the proper temperature or dishes that aren’t being sanitized, which can make people sick if they aren’t fixed.
Critical violations need to be corrected either on the day of the inspection or immediately after, and the county health department usually follows up to ensure the problem has been taken care of, environmental health specialist Bob Smith said. When a school receives a noncritical violation they could have a day, a week or longer to fix the problem, and the health department may or may not check up on it, Smith said.
Between April 2013 and April 2014 the health department found a total of three critical violations, one at Center Grove Elementary and two at Franklin College. The health department also found a total of
25 noncritical violations at Center Grove, Clark-Pleasant and Franklin schools, SS. Francis and Clare Catholic School, Franklin College and at the Central Nine Career Center.
State law lists the standards that schools, restaurants, food trucks and convenience stores must meet if they’re preparing and serving food to the public. Schools are typically inspected once per semester, while restaurants can be inspected more or less frequently, depending on whether they prepare and serve fresh food or prepackaged items, Smith said.
Public school and Franklin College officials said they take all critical and noncritical violations seriously and fix them immediately so students aren’t made sick by the food they’re served.
“When I look at this list I think it’s isolated cases of running a business. I don’t see a pattern of uncleanliness,” Schluge said.
Center Grove Elementary’s critical violation was because of a dish machine that wasn’t sanitizing dishes at the proper temperature, according to a county health department inspection report. Franklin College’s two critical violations were because of gnats flying around a beverage machine, and because of a deli cooler that had been left open for too long and wasn’t cooling to the proper temperature, Schluge said.
Center Grove had the dish machine repaired immediately after the problem was found, director of food and nutrition services Shannon Nesius said. Franklin College called a pest control company to get rid of the gnats and threw out all of the food that had been in the warm cooler, Schluge said.
“From time to time equipment does go down in our kitchen,” Nesius said.
Pleasant Grove Elementary was also cited for a noncritical violation because of rodent droppings found in a store room. Sticky and snap traps were also found, and the school reported capturing one rodent, according to an inspection report.
Typically if rodents and their droppings are found, that equals a critical violation, Brown said. But, if food service workers were using traps and had contacted an exterminator to fix the problem, the inspector could have given the school a noncritical violation, Smith said.
“It’s not like they were ignoring the situation,” Smith said.
Nesius said the droppings were cleaned immediately, and pest control workers dealt with any remaining rodents.
“I took it very seriously, we addressed it immediately and passed a follow-up inspection a few days later,” she said. “I would never compromise student safety. Student safety is our number one priority at Center Grove.”