KSLA Investigates: School cafeteria health inspections

Is your child’s lunch room making the grade?

KSLA Investigates: School cafeteria health inspections

SHREVEPORT, LA (KSLA) - Christy Johnston’s daughter, Riley, is like a lot of fourth graders. Some school lunches she likes and others she doesn’t.

“She eats in her school cafeteria, two or three times a week,” Christy said. “But she really doesn’t like the food they serve so much.”

“I like the steak fingers,” says Riley.

After asking her what a steak finger is, Christy wasn’t totally sure.

“It’s like a chicken nugget, with steak, that’s not actually steak,” she said

This single mother is certain of one thing; that the cafeteria serving her daughter’s lunch should be clean.

But are school kitchens and cafeteria’s as clean as they look? Wanting to find out, KSLA Investigates looked at inspection reports from the Louisiana Department of Health, covering all the public schools in each parish school district in our viewing area.

Limiting our review to the most recent academic year, we learned that state health inspectors caught 207 health violations. Here is the breakdown:

  • Red River schools received zero violations. 
  • DeSoto schools received one violation.
  • Health inspectors found two violations in Webster schools.
  • Bienville schools were issued 11 health violations.
  • 12 violations were given to Sabine schools.
  • Claiborne schools got tagged with 20 health violations.
  • 22 violations were handed down in Bossier schools.
  • Inspectors wrote Natchitoches schools, a district with roughly 6,000 students, 61 violations.
  • And finally, Caddo, a district with almost 40,000 students, received 78 violations.

Sherry Brokenberry, the School Food Service Supervisor of the DeSoto Parish School system, says the people preparing and serving our kids food are professionals, who place health, safety and cleanliness as their top priority.

Sherry Broken Berry, the School Food Service Supervisor for the Desoto Parish School system, talking about how her staff works closely as a team.
Sherry Broken Berry, the School Food Service Supervisor for the Desoto Parish School system, talking about how her staff works closely as a team.

“We are serving children, the portion of the population who is more likely to get affected if our cafeterias and kitchens are not clean,” says Sherry.

She also says her staff prepares about 5,500 meals each day in ten cafeterias and despite the large volume of students served, her team has a near spotless health and sanitation record.

“Everybody has to work as a team,” said Sherry. “We only have a certain amount of time to prepare and serve these meals, so everyone has to work together.”

Overall, the nine parish public school systems have good health inspection records however, 85% of the health violations found in our school cafeterias and kitchens are what the state calls “non-critical", meaning the problems are not directly related to food borne illnesses.

Typically, those types of violations are trivial things, like a lid left off a garbage can, a kitchen fan needing cleaning or brooms stored improperly.

In fact, of the 144 public schools KSLA surveyed, only two cafeterias got tagged with repeat non-critical health violations. Both schools were in Natchitoches parish, however, state records indicate the violations were cured and did not cause any health issues.

“We take that very seriously. These are our kids, these are our customers,” Sherry said. “So, we take every step possible to make sure our cafeterias are as clean and safe, if not more so, than any restaurant our parents may take their kids.”

Cleaning a middle school cafeteria in the DeSoto Parish School system between lunch periods.
Cleaning a middle school cafeteria in the DeSoto Parish School system between lunch periods.

Turns out, this school year, Sherry’s cafeterias in Desoto and Webster schools are the only two districts without a critical health violation. Bienville, Bossier and Sabine schools got one each and multiple schools received them in Claiborne (2), Natchitoches (8) and Caddo (12) – according to state records.

But in an email, Department of Health officials tells KSLA Investigates that most critical violations are fixed while state inspectors are still at the school, or within three days.

In fact, only one Parish school had trouble with that, University Elementary in Caddo, where back in late August 2018, a hot water issue took eight days to fix.

Christy Johnston talking to her daughter Riley about the fourth grader's favorite school lunch.
Christy Johnston talking to her daughter Riley about the fourth grader's favorite school lunch.

Turns out, that’s where Christy’s daughter Riley goes to school.

However, hearing the violation didn’t cause any health problems, and loving the people working at the school and in the cafeteria at University, Christy plans to keep having Riley eat lunch at school.

She only hopes her picky eater starts eating the food more often. Something Riley is willing to do, she says, if steak fingers, plus her second and third favorite foods are served up more often.

“Nachos and tater tots,” Riley said.” And desert, I’ll eat the brownies and ice cream.”

If you are interested in checking the latest health inspections from your child’s school, whether public or private, you can find that information through the Department of Health’s “Eat Safe Louisiana” program. Just click, HERE, then click on restaurant inspections, then type the name of your child’s school, and the most recent reports should pop up.

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