WORCESTER, Mass. — Carlos Ortiz shook his head in disgust when he heard what health inspectors found in his cousin's Worcester school last year.
"That sounds really, really bad. I'm concerned about her health," Ortiz said.
An inspector reported in March of 2018, "the food storage room [had] a large amount of rodent feces on [the] floor and on [the] shelves" inside Belmont Community School, according to documents from the Worcester Department of Inspectional Services.
Several months later, inspectors reported more problems in the kitchen.
"The [Belmont Community] staff says there are many flies in the kitchen. I did see some," the inspector wrote in October of 2018.
"That sounds really gross," Kendra Smith, the mother of a first-grader said. "I would hope [the cafeteria is] clean, and not have feces--rodent feces," she said.
Belmont Community School is one of at least seven Massachusetts schools that had a problem with rodent droppings in the last two years, according to inspection reports obtained by Boston 25 News.
25 Investigates found the most common violations involve improper food temperatures, dirty conditions in the kitchen and mislabeled food items.
"Major no-no's consist of live pests, you know, larger pests like cockroaches or rodents in the kitchen," said Abbie Atkins, the Brookline Senior Public Health Inspector. "Cross-contamination issues are one of the worst violations, plumbing issues, sanitation issues," Atkins said.
Inspectors like Atkins follow a comprehensive check-list, examining everything from food labels and temperatures, to how often employees wash their hands and change gloves.
"That's why we're here, to make sure that we are enforcing the sanitary code and they're following those best practices," Atkins said.
Massachusetts schools are inspected twice a year, usually in the spring and fall, according to Pat Maloney, Brookline's chief of Environmental Health and Inspectional Programs.
Local towns and cities use the federal FDA code as a guide, augmented by the state sanitary code, Maloney said.
Dr. Joan Salge Blake, a nutritionist at Boston University, said there are certain things children should look for.
"Do the tables look dirty? Are there crumbs on the floor? If they see the table is dirty, the fork is dirty or the plate is dirty, they should go home and tell their parents," Salge Blake said.
"A child's immune system is not as robust as an adult. They're still growing. So they are more susceptible to food-borne illnesses," she said.
Most towns and cities do not post their inspection reports online, so parents who want to know what's happening inside their child's cafeteria should contact their local health department or school.
Here are notable violations we uncovered through open records requests:
- McGlynn Elementary School: "No allergen training posted." (May 30, 2018)
- Andrews Middle: "Pest droppings observed beneath 3 bay sink. Fill in holes w/ steel wool, properly clean up and remove droppings." (Nov. 9, 2017)
- Coakley Middle School: "Rodent dropping observed on floor in deli area next to the electrical box- droppings removed by staff *Pest control operator to target this area during next service visit." (May 3, 2019)
- Norwood High School: *Provide a food allergy notice at each point of service (pizza, deli sandwich areas) The notice shall state: 'Before placing your order, please inform your server if a person in your party has a food allergy.'" (May 14, 2019)
- Balch Elementary: Mice droppings found in Nov. 2017 and May 2018: "Mice dropping observed on floor, along the wall, where food cans are stored. Mice dropping observed on floor behind cooler…inspector strongly recommends pest control operator provide the area with glue boards/bait stations to eliminate pests." (May 21, 2018)
- Allergen Awareness Certifications were not in compliance at three schools: Center School (May 6, 2019), Harrington School (May 8, 2019), and Parker Middle (May 10, 2019).
- Parker Middle's kitchen was dirty during the inspection on May 10, 2019: "The white block walls inside of the kitchen are still not cleaned from last year's inspection…The kitchen floor condition is not in sanitary condition. The floor needs to be stripped and refinished for the beginning of the 2019-2020 school season."
- McCarthy Middle School: "The walls inside of the walk-in cooler have a build up of black fungus." (Dec. 13, 2018)…"The black wall inside of the dry storage area has a black fungus at the base of the wall. The wall board is very wet." (May 15, 2019) "The town had an abatement company come in to take samples to determine the level and hazard of the black fungus before demolition of the wall board." (May 17, 2019)
- Community Education: "There are mice droppings inside of the walk-in cooler, and along the base of the walls in the kitchen. There are also mice droppings inside of the food service dry storage room." (June 4, 2018)
- Oak Hill Middle School: Inspectors found 11 infractions on Oct 9, 2018: "An employee was observed eating cookies in the food service area…Employees were observed not washing their hands despite performing numerous tasks…There was no soap at the handwashing sink."
- Cabot School: "There was a food employee eating in the kitchen (food preparation area)…There was no handwashing cleanser at any of the handwashing sinks in the kitchen…There was no hand drying provision (Jason note: blow dryer) at any of the handwashing sinks in the kitchen." (Sept. 9, 2019)
- Foxborough High School: "Noted mold-like substance and mineral buildup at water fountain in cafeteria" (May 1, 2019)
- A.C. Whelan Elementary: "Mice dropping in corner dry storage" (May 18, 2018)
- Francis Wyman School: "Mouse droppings found under shelves and behind water heater in paper storage room…Mouse droppings also found in old unused warewash (dish wash) room under shelves and equipment." (Sept. 9, 2018)
- Brookside School: "No hot water at two hand sinks. This is a problem. This is a critical violation which requires a next day re-inspection." (May 2, 2018)
- Belmont Community School: "The food storage room has a large amount of rodent feces on floor and on shelves" (Mar. 5, 2018) …"The last couple days the staff says there are many flies in kitchen. I did see some." (Oct. 25, 2018)
- Burncoat Prep School: "The only issue was an abundance of flies in food prep area and room where children eat. The school staff was advised…" (Oct. 15, 2018)… "Re-inspect Oct. 23 and 30, violation corrected."
Check your district:
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