By Gina Martinez
Nearly half of the city’s public school cafeterias are not up to health code, according to a recently published report by the City University of New York Graduate School of Journalism.
The report’s release comes after the schools started offering free meals to 1.1 million public school children citywide. It revealed that nearly 700 school cafeterias — almost half of the 1,400 inspected by health officials in 2017 — were found to have at least one critical violation, which indicates the kinds of problems that could lead to food-borne illnesses.
Health Department inspectors found an average of two violations per school cafeteria visit. Officials noted that while some schools had no violations, others racked up more, driving up the average.
The report found that one out of every five of the citations was classified as a critical violation. More than half of the 1,150 critical violations reported in 2017 showed evidence of mice, rats, roaches and flies in food preparation and consumption areas, the report said.
On July 12, 1,500 flies were found at Ozone Park’s MS 137 cafeteria. The school’s kitchen prepares more than 700 meals for five area schools. The Health Department gave the middle school two days to clean up and put all food in rat-proof containers. According to the report, while there was some improvement when an inspector returned July 17, flies still loomed and the kitchen remained dirty. The school got another two days to fix the violations; by the third try the problems were solved.
The four dozen schools with the worst health inspection records in 2017 were found to serve some of the city’s poorest students. The CUNY report said that city records showed that students who attend these schools tend to be disproportionately minority group members.
The research also found that at least five suspected outbreaks of food-borne illnesses were suspected to stem from norovirus, and affected hundreds of students, including 200 students at PS 12 in Woodside during an outbreak in 2016. The school was shut down for the day after the outbreak, according to the CUNY report.
The Department of Health released a statement regarding the report’s findings, saying that in 2016, 97 percent of city schools passed inspection and “any violations were immediately addressed.”
“We are committed to working with the Department of Education to ensure all students are provided with a safe and clean environment in our city’s schools,” the statement said. “We will continue to hold school cafeterias to rigorous safety standards.”
Reach Gina Martinez by e-mail at gmart