School cafeteria inspections

By Carrie Johnson Weimar • Published: June 5th, 2007
Category: Health in a Heartbeat

Concerned about letting your child eat in the school cafeteria? Your fears may not be totally off base.

According to information from the U-S Department of Agriculture, millions of children eat in school cafeterias that aren’t getting the twice-yearly health inspections required by Congress to help prevent food poisoning.

Congress mandated the twice yearly visits from health inspectors in 2005. Before, only one annual visit was required.

According to the Agriculture Department, of the nearly ninety-five-thousand schools reporting during the 2005-2006 school year, ten percent weren’t inspected at all and twenty-nine were inspected once. Sixty-one percent received the recommended two visits.

Inspectors are told to be on the lookout for common violations such as failing to keep hot food hot or cold food cold, or having an open Dumpster outside the cafeteria. Inspectors also keep an eye on cafeteria workers to ensure they wash their hands.

Schools have fallen prey to food poisoning outbreaks in the past, including a high-profile case in Michigan where hundreds of children and teachers got sick from hepatitis A-tainted strawberries in 1997. Eleven children in Finley, Washington were sickened by school tacos made with E-coli contaminated beef the following year.

But don’t blame the schools. It’s up to state and local health authorities to schedule inspections, and many health departments are severely understaffed, particularly in rural areas. Also, Congress never appropriated any money when it doubled the inspection requirements.

Questions or concerns about your child’s cafeteria? Call your local school district and inquire.