School cafeteria inspection scores revealedHutterite schools often among worst scores.
By: Ross Dolan, The Daily Republic
Want to know the health rating of a South Dakota restaurant?
Easy. Just go online and check it out at the South Dakota Department of Health website, doh.sd.gov/HealthScore.
It’s not so easy, however, when it comes to checking school cafeteria ratings. To do that, parents must visit their child’s school where the latest inspection results should be posted.
School cafeteria inspection results are not collected by the Department of Health, as restaurant inspections are. Instead, school cafeteria inspection reports are maintained by the South Dakota Department of Education’s office of Child and Adult Nutrition Services (CANS).
CANS Supervisor Sandra Kangas said her office is considering posting the inspection results online.
“We have investigated methods to do this, but we have not established a date when that will happen,” she said.
It took several weeks, but The Daily Republic got the inspection scores for the schools in its print circulation area, as well as full inspection reports for the schools with the worst scores over the past three school years.
Since 2005, all schools participating in the Department of Agriculture’s National School Lunch Program are required to have their cafeterias inspected twice a year, once in the fall and once in the spring.
Among the scores obtained by The Daily Republic, those that were most consistently and noticeably lower were at Hutterite colony schools, which come under the umbrella of the public school district within which they’re located and are subject to the same cafeteria standards.
Among the 62 sites checked by The Daily Republic, the average inspection score was 95.97 on a 100-point scale. Among Hutterite schools, the average score was 90.1.
Inspectors often wrote up colony cafeterias for using “unapproved,” or home-canned, foods.
Clark Hepper, director of the state’s Office of Health Protection, said all food sources in restaurants or schools must come from state- or federally approved sources to merit a passing score on inspections. Milk, another item criticized, must be commercially pasteurized.
Kangas said colonies often score lower because of their choice to serve foods they have either grown or processed on their own. Noting the cultural differences at the colonies, she said it’s difficult to develop general standards that fit all situations.
“We have chosen not to score them differently because the requirement still exists and there are not different standards,” Kangas said. “We do keep that in mind, however, as we look at the scores.”
Colony cafeterias also accumulated more cleanliness violations than regular public school cafeterias for failure to follow the recommended procedures.
Mitchell schools, with a few minor exceptions, fared well and had the following average inspection ratings over the three years of records checked:
* Mitchell Middle School, 96.
* Mitchell High School, 98.3.
* L.B. Williams Elementary, 98.3.
* Longfellow Elementary, 96.5.
* Gertie Belle Rogers Elementary, 97.1.
* Mitchell Christian Elementary, 98.3.
School cafeteria inspections are completed by the same state Department of Public Safety inspection team responsible for inspecting restaurants, and the inspectors of school cafeterias use the same 44-item inspection form used for restaurants.
Critical inspection violations, which appear as shaded areas on inspection forms, include such items as employee health (are cafeteria employees ill?), hand washing and food protection (cooking and storing food at appropriate temperatures).
These critical violations are given deductions ranging from three to five points. Improper use or storage of poisons, medicines or other toxic materials can draw an eight-point violation, the highest on the sheet.
The federal inspection requirement, Kangas said, means the state must pay for twice yearly inspections of 640 cafeteria sites at an inspection cost of $52 an hour, a rate that includes an allowance for travel. That’s a rough total of $67,000 for the inspections, which Kangas said typically take about an hour per site.
Check-box violations on inspection forms are relatively easy to understand, but hand-written comments, such as “SOP” and “QUAT,” take some explaining. QUAT is short for quaternary ammonium sanitizer, which is typically used after washing and rinsing dishes.
SOP, shorthand for “standard operating procedure,” is a common violation noted on many inspections, especially those at colony cafeterias. It refers to manuals or operating procedures that should be used for all food handling processes, from washing of hands, surfaces and utensils to food preparation and temperature control.
“Some SOPs, such as temperature logs, should be available and posted,” Kangas said. “Other procedures need only to be available.”
Mitchell Food Service Director Sean Moen said regulations require all SOPs to be available in a three-ring binder at each school location, and logs for various processes must be maintained.
Log sheets are posted throughout the busy cafeteria at Mitchell Middle School. The school prepares 2,500 meals daily for students, local LifeQuest clients and seniors in Mitchell, Ethan and Artesian.
“The logs are everywhere,” said Kitchen Manager Jodel Dierks.
Any step that could potentially cause a hazardous problem with food must be logged, Moen said. That includes milk coolers, freezers, heaters and hot storage systems.
The procedures are important, Hepper said, and the procedures work together to promote food safety. On some reports, inspectors recommend more education to get cafeteria workers up to speed on food handling safety procedures.
“A common violation we see is a lot of improper cold and hot holding of food as well as problems with the general processing of products,” Hepper said. For restaurants, a score below 80 triggers a re-inspection. For the schools, however, problems are expected to be corrected and re-inspections are not automatic.
“I would be concerned with any score below 80,” Kangas said.
A 2009 report by USA Today learned that 26,500 schools nationally lack the required inspections. Nearly all the schools in the Daily Republic print circulation area reported inspections. A few school districts had reports of “none,” which means no score was turned into the office or “no score,” which means an inspection was not done or if completed, was not turned in. In some cases, the one agency may think the other is handling an inspection, Kangas theorized, and the report doesn’t get filed.
Inspections of American Indian tribal schools are handled by the U.S. Public Health Service, which is based in Aberdeen, or through sanitarians hired by the state’s nine tribes, Kangas said.
The state is planning to follow up on the missing information, Kangas said.
“We will be making changes this year to make sure the reports are correctly filed.”
Adherence to the sanitary regulations depends largely on good will and the cooperation of the entities involved, Kangas said. Her office does not have the authority to fine schools out of compliance.
The Andes Central School District had the greatest number of missing or “no score” notations among the reports analyzed by The Daily Republic. Requests for comments on the missing reports from Andes Central officials generated no reply.
— The Daily Republic’s Marcus Traxler contributed to this report.