Is Your Child's School Cafeteria Making The Grade?

Author: Amy Davis, Investigative Reporter/Consumer Expert, adavis@kprc.com
Published On: Oct 10 2011 06:34:31 PM CDT   Updated On: Sep 28 2011 10:46:38 AM CDT
HOUSTON -

From rats and roaches to old food that health inspectors said could make you sick, every week our Restaurant Report Card gives you important information to help you decide where to take your family to eat. But all across our area, there are kitchens serving food to your kids every day, whether they like it or not.

KPRC Local 2 consumer investigator Amy Davis takes the Restaurant Report Card to school cafeterias.

No matter how old or young you are, you probably have some memories of your old school cafeteria.

"Chicken tenders with cheese," one mom told Davis.

"The best part is the milk," said one Foster Elementary fourth grader.

But Local 2 Investigates found some schools making more than memories. Just like restaurants, school cafeterias are inspected at least once a year, and the rules are the same.

"They have to meet the same standards as any restaurant," city of Houston Health Department Consumer Health Bureau Chief Patrick Key said.  "Hot and cold running water. Temperatures have to be correct."

Let's face it: Small children are more at risk for food-borne illnesses than adults. Health inspectors would agree the violations they found in the Clear Creek Independent School District add to their concern.

Health inspectors told employees to "take all effective measures to minimize the presence of rodents at Clear Lake High's ninth-grade campus.

They told employees at Space Center Intermediate to clean inside the "cabinets to remove old rodent droppings."

At Westbrook Intermediate, the milk was too warm. Employees were ordered to repair the walk-in cooler.

At the Houston Independent School District's Foster Elementary, a manager told inspectors exterminators placed glue traps and that they are aware of the rodent problem, but said they can not find the point of entry.

"You can get so many type of infections from rodents, so, yeah, it's a big concern," one Foster Elementary parent said.

Cafeteria employees at Briscoe Elementary were written up for not washing their hands.

Inspectors condemned 11 pounds of food and milk at Gallegos Elementary deemed "not safe for human consumption" because it was stored at the wrong temperature.

Employees at Dechaumes Elementary agreed to close the cafeteria when inspectors showed up and found no hot water in the kitchen.

Even with those violations, most schools in HISD had none. Schools like Edison Junior High, Albert Thomas Middle School and Harvard Elementary all earned an A for cleanliness.

Private schools don't get a pass from health inspectors, either. When they stopped by the Montessori School of Downtown in League City, inspectors "observed roach activity" under a counter and roach droppings on door hinges.

Inspectors didn't find any violations at Humble ISD's Kingwood Park High School or Aldine's Bethune Academy. Both earned an A+.

"You have to do your job every day the right way," Beverly Hills Intermediate cafeteria manager Debbie Murray said. "You can't just prepare for the inspector. That's not what it's about."

At Beverly Hills and almost every school in Pasadena ISD, inspectors found spotless cafeterias.

"It's about providing safe food every day as we go along," said Murray. 

There are hundreds of schools in our area. We just couldn't include them all in this report. To find the City of Houston health inspection report for your child's cafeteria, click here and enter the name of the school.

All of the schools or districts mentioned in this story were offered the opportunity to talk with KPRC Local 2 on camera. They all declined, but sent us the following statements:

"The Clear Creek Independent School District is committed to providing a safe and effective environment for all students. We share in the city of Houston Health Department's mission to ensure kitchen and serving areas meet city, state and federal guidelines. District staff took immediate actions to correct the issues raised in the inspection reports.

Elaina Polsen Director of Communications

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"Montessori School of Downtown has all services necessary to maintain a healthy and safe environment, including, but not limited to, pest control. Our school has a certified food manager on site at all times and is serviced for pest control quarterly. If there are ever any bug sightings, we call our service company and they always respond very promptly. They are very thorough in their inspections and spray each and every classroom as well as the cafeteria and offices. If they need to come out in between scheduled servicing, they always include the cafeteria as well, just because they are there and to be very diligent in preventing any unwanted bugs. The pest control company serviced this school for the quarter on Sept 2, 2011. The health department came to the school for their annual inspection the morning of Sept. 13, 2011. We notified our pest control people about the few roach droppings that were found immediately and they came to spray again the same afternoon ... Sept. 13, 2011.The health department is very thorough as well; if there was a serious issue they would be visiting our school on a much more frequent basis than annually. I am attaching a copy of the scheduled service as well as the follow up service. Please note the technicians remarks stating that "it is not unusual to see dead roaches after a technician has treated".

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"Serving safe, nutritious and quality food is our top priority. HISD Food Services has ongoing, rigorous training and quality assurance processes to ensure we meet very high standards for each of the 270,000 meals served daily in the district?s 284 school cafeterias.

"HISD Food Services has an internal Department of Quality Control/Assurance that conducts comprehensive food safety inspections at each campus throughout the school year. Additionally, the city of Houston Health Department inspects each campus a minimum of two times each school year. These proactive inspections are reported weekly for follow-up and potential issues are immediately addressed and corrected. All cafeteria managers are certified in food safety by the city of Houston Department of Health and Human Services. Additionally, while not required by the city of Houston, the majority of all food service employees are also certified in food safety.

"The District regards the Quality Control inspections as an extremely valuable tool in assuring the safety and well-being of all students."

Brian Giles Senior Administrator, Food Services Houston Independent School District