Lunchroom Safety

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In an average year, more than 700 students will get food poisoning at school. A new report is raising some questions about how safe school cafeterias really are.

The Center for Science in the Public Interest conducted a nationwide inspection on school cafeterias in 20 districts across the U.S.

Nearly a third didn't pass the test and even more startling, they found potentially deadly bacteria lurking inside lunchrooms.

School lunchrooms can be a breeding ground for bacteria. And a CSPI inspection reveals critical errors in many schools across the country.

"Probably one of the main ones would be not having food at the correct temperature, if it's not hot enough, or not cold enough, it allows bacteria to grow more rapidly,” explains Tonya Grier, Child Nutrition Program Director for Dothan city schools.

Other hazardous conditions found during the analysis include rodent droppings, dirty equipment and utensils, poor personnel hygiene, and cross contamination.

A recent report shows major problems in other U.S. cities for keeping lunchrooms clean and even food poisoning. Officials say that's not a problem for schools here in Dothan.

"We typically do very well. We're monitored monthly by the Health Department and we average a 95 or higher on our sanitation scores,” Grier adds.

Grier oversees 18 sites and close to 100 staff members within Dothan city schools. Highlands Elementary is one of those schools and in recent years, they've scored consistently high.

"Our score was 99 this month and we're really proud of that and since I've been working here, which has been five years, it's been 99 and 98 most of the time,” shares lunchroom manager Toni Johnson at Highlands Elementary.

Good scores translate into good news for young children, who are at even more risk from infections caused by e-coli, salmonella, and other deadly pathogens.

I spoke with officials from the Houston County School System and they tell me health inspection scores for their eight campuses average 95 or higher and have no reported cases of food poisoning.

Everyday school cafeterias serve up 29 million meals. Inspectors reported everything from dirty counters in Connecticut to dirty utensils and rodents in Rhode Island.