SHREVEPORT, LA (KSLA) - On a recent evening, while fixing her two kids’ dinner, Tabitha Trudnak spoke about the lunches where her daughter attends school, and her confidence in the cleanliness of the cafeteria serving those meals.
“I think they’re pretty clean,” I teach also, so I go in the cafeterias and they always seem to be really clean.”
But is Tabitha’s trust deserved?
KSLA Investigates decided to put school cafeterias and kitchens to the test, looking at health inspections reports, covering the nine parish school districts in the KSLA viewing area.
Of the 144 schools, surveyed, 55 proved spotless during their last inspection, including north DeSoto Middle School, where Sherry Brokenberry works as Food Service Supervisor.
“We provide training at the beginning of the school year and throughout,” said Sherry, talking about her staff that prepares and serves more than 5,500 meals each school day.
“Here we don’t want to serve anything to a child that we would not eat,” Sherry said.
In Louisiana, when health inspectors find violations, they’re separated into two categories. Non-critical and critical.
Non-critical violations are ones that won’t make your kid directly sick, unless it isn’t corrected. But critical violations are problems, that if not corrected on site or within three days, could lead to a food borne illness.
So far this school, year Sherry’s kitchens in Desoto and the cafeterias in Red River and Webster Schools have zero critical violations.
But across the other parish school districts, health inspectors caught a combined 34 critical violations.
Caddo schools received the most at sixteen. Natchitoches got tagged with 9. Five were issued in Claiborne And finally, inspectors found two in Sabine, and one each in Bienville and Bossier.
The most common critical violation found: cafeteria staff cross contaminating food.
“That can be caused by not cleaning a surface after we process some type of raw food item, and then using that same surface to process produce,” Sherry explained.
Turns out, Health inspectors caught that critical violation in these eleven schools: Cherokee Park Elementary, Moorings Port School, Northside Elementary, North Caddo High, North Highlands Elementary, Southwood High, Zwolle Elementary, Natchitoches Central High, Provencal School, Haynesville Elementary and Summerfield High.
Six schools got handed critical violations for toxic labeling or storage: Caddo Heights, Caddo Career Center, North Caddo High, Zwolle High, Haynesville Elementary and Arcadia High.
Dating and labeling food popped up as a problem for these four schools: Atkins Elementary, Booker T. High, Caddo Career Center and Natchitoches Magnet.
Only one school had a pest problem: Marthaville Jr. High in Natchitoches, where an inspector found rat droppings in a storage closet.
But the good news, according to state records, all the critical violations issued got corrected, without any report of illness.
Tabitha wasn’t surprised to learn school cafeterias and kitchens in Northwest Louisiana are among some of the cleanest in the state.
“To me, I’ve been in restaurants, or fast food places where, it’s not as, you know, sanitary as what you see in schools,” said Tabitha.
But what she didn’t expect to hear, was that health inspectors are only required to stop by school kitchens twice a calendar year for inspections.
Meaning there’s no time frame when those inspections will happen during the school year. During our survey of the health reports, we found schools in our viewing area getting inspected multiple times during the first semester.
Others inspected just once, way back in August and fifteen schools had no record of a health inspection this entire school year.
For parents sending their kids to school in Arkansas, the recent most school cafeteria health inspections are also posted online, at the Arkansas Department of Health Website. (https://foodserviceprod.adh.arkansas.gov/Web/inspection/publicinspectionsearch.aspx)
Texas school cafeteria health inspections are not accessible in one database online. However many county and city health department across the Lone Star State to post that information on their webpages.