School cafeteria investigation

By Ashley Swann -

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RICHMOND, VA (NBC12) - In our special restaurant report, we take an in-depth
look at school cafeterias. They're held to the same standards as regular restaurants but, they serve a segment of the population that's even more susceptible to food borne illness. 

I surveyed the health inspection histories of nearly every school in our viewing area and found only one cafeteria that met our threshold for the critical list -- with four violations.

The majority of schools had near-perfect inspection histories, a finding we found so surprising, we decided to find out just how they do it. 

It isn't easy to run a kitchen with a near-perfect health inspection record. Just ask, Loretta Bryant, who's worked in the cafeteria of Henrico's Ward Elementary for 11 years.

"We work very hard," says Bryant, cafeteria manager at Ward. 

Credit hard work and organization for the success of a kitchen that serves about 400 hungry mouths everyday. From the moment Loretta arrives at 6:30 a.m., she and her staff of five
follow a strict set of guidelines. 
 
"If not, then your kids are gonna get sick, and we don't want the children to get sick,
we don't want to get sick," says Bryant. "We want to keep everybody as healthy as we possibly can because that's the name of the game."

And the rules of the game, when it comes to food safety, include everything from vigilant hair net and glove use, to constant handwashing and sanitation reminders.

"We'll go over again, like scrubbing, cleaning, sanitizing, the proper ways of doing it," says Bryant.

Because dangerous bacteria can grow on foods that aren't properly heated, everything, even pizza, is carefully checked. Bryant says, "If it doesn't reach temperature, then she puts it back in and she writes on the log that it went back into the oven."

And it's likely, according to Virginia Department of Health director Gary Hagy, that the same care is being taken at your child's school.

"I think parents should feel very safe and very comfortable with their school systems," says Gary Hagy.

In fact, our investigation of schools in Richmond, Henrico, Hanover, Chesterfield, Colonial Heights, Petersburg, Hopewell and Powhatan found an overwhelming majority are more than
making the grade.

"It doesn't surprise me that you're finding most of the schools in compliance. Do they have
violations? Sure, occasionally, they will," says Hagy.

The most frequent critical violations involved temperature control, storage mishaps, teachers scooping ice without a scoop, and, the all too common, failure to wash.

"Probably, if you look at most restaurants, you'll find the same violation, hand washing is a common critical violation that we see," says Hagy.

All in all, though, local school cafeterias seem to be doing just as well, if not better, than restaurants at maintaining food safety. And serving the needs of our youngest diners.

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