Friday, April 20, 2007

Does the Lunch Lady Wash Her Hands?

Not always, at least according to a recent Center for Science in the Public Interest report on food safety conditions in school kitchens. Keeping the risks in perspective, there have been 11,000 documented cases of food poisoning from school cafeterias between 1990 and 2004. Schools serve 29 million meals each school day.

Still, the food pathogens encountered currently are not a small matter with virulent strains of E. coli and more and more resistant strains of salmonella out there. Young children are particularly vulnerable.

The CPSI report, “Making the Grade,” analyzed inspection reports from high school cafeterias in 20 jurisdictions across the country. The 20 were then on quality of food-safety inspections, frequency of inspections, and if the public had access to the information. The inspection reports revealed unacceptable conditions such as roaches, both dead and alive; rodent droppings; and improper food storage and handling techniques.

“Cities, counties, and school districts shouldn’t wait until a major outbreak of Hepatitis A, E. coli, or Salmonella forces them to update their food codes and ramp up inspections,” said Ken Kelly, food safety attorney for CSPI and lead author of the report. “Regrettably, many school cafeterias may be just one meal away from an outbreak.”

Hartford, Conn., received the lowest score, 37 out of a possible 100. The jurisdiction racked up the most critical violations, including multiple cases of dirty equipment and utensils, inadequate hand-washing facilities, and poor personnel hygiene. Hartford also had infrequent inspections. Infrequent is kind of a subjective word, given that federal regulations only require two per year.

Others who failed to make the grade: District of Columbia, with the lowest inspection frequency; Rhode Island; Minneapolis, Minn.; and Hillsborough (includes Tampa) and Dade (includes Miami) counties in Florida.

Also from the CSPI: Beverage (soda) contracts are not that profitable for schools:

"Most school beverage deals aren’t very lucrative, raising an average of only $18 per student per year, according to the first-ever multi-state analysis of school systems’ contracts with beverage companies. The study, conducted by the nonprofit Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI) and the Public Health Advocacy Institute (PHAI), analyzed 120 contracts in 16 states and found that the majority (67 percent) of the revenue collected from drink sales goes to beverage companies, not schools. The $18 dollars per student raised represents only one quarter of one percent of the average cost of a student's education, which, according to the National Center for Education Statistics, is about $8,000 per year. The study was supported by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and the Argosy Foundation."

I don't know about you, but I would GIVE my school $18.00 a year to keep the soda out if I need to. Now we can print out the study, take it to our schools and demand the drink machines be removed as they don't provide an substantial benefit for anyone — except the beverage companies.


Frugal Mom said...

I have to tell you I am so excited because my children's school needed a district rep for the Food Service Advisory Committee and I am it. I am so excited and hopeful that together with other parents we can make a difference in the food and drink choices that are offered to our kids in school.

Frugal Mom said...

And that thru this program we can actually TEACH them how to make better choices.

The Expatriate Chef said...

Good for you, FM! Keep us updated on the progress you make!