An article published recently by a Hearst Connecticut newspaper provided information about health inspections in Fairfield County school cafeterias. It said John Read Middle School is tied with Weston High School as having the second most health inspection failures in the county over the last five years, with 10 failures each.
Town Health Officer Doug Hartline said the scoring system can be challenging to interpret, but the schools “generally do a great job.”
Quarterly inspection reports are based on a 100-point scoring system devised by the state health department. Restaurants or food facilities must receive a score of 80 to pass. Violations range from one to four points. The way scoring is done, there is only one subtraction per violation. For example, having food uncovered is a two-point violation regardless of the number of times the violation occurs.
If there are a lot of two-point violations and “definitely” with four-point violations, a re-inspection is in order, said Mr. Hartline.
The state health code states that when a restaurant or food service facility is inspected and receives a four-point violation, it is deemed a failure. If a facility or restaurant receives a score of 80 or below out of 100, that is also deemed a failure.
Peggy Sullivan, director of finance and operations for Easton, Redding and Region 9 schools, said the reporter had called Mr. Hartline and herself in September asking about their lunch program.
“I sent a notification to parents when we knew this article was being researched. We knew where the reporter was going with the article and we sent the facts out to parents so when they read the article, they have some basis for it,” said Ms. Sullivan.
In the letter to parents the reasons for failures were listed.
It said, “Over the past two years, John Read Middle School kitchen has received scores for each inspection that range from 94 to 98 points. Nonetheless, the kitchen failed four inspections for the following reasons: A four-point deduction was incurred in each of two inspections because the internal temperature of a cooked hamburger in the serving tray was several degrees cooler than required. In one inspection, a four-point deduction was incurred because cleaning products were improperly stored under a sink. In the fourth inspection, a four-point deduction was incurred because a dented can was shelved adjacent to un-dented canned food.”
Joel Barlow High School received total scores ranging from 92 to 98 over the past two years. The kitchen failed two inspections. In each instance the internal temperature of a cooked hamburger in the serving tray was several degrees cooler than required, it said in the letter.
Redding Elementary School received scores ranging from 94 to 97 and has not received any four-point deductions.
Mr. Hartline said that “the term failing is exacerbated.”
A restaurant or facility can have a score of 96, but with one four-point violation, they are deemed a failure, he said.
“It boils down to whenever the health department conducts the inspection and if someone gets a four-point violation, the term failure gets attached to it. Is this a reason for closure? No. A four-point violation is an area of concern, but usually items are to be corrected right away or on the spot,” said Mr. Hartline.
Over the past five years, since 2007, only one re-inspection has been required. John Read Middle School received an 83 in September 2008.
“There was a hose hanging over into the drain sink. There was a temperature issue, and the hand-wash sink was blocked along with other minor violations,” Mr. Hartline said. Those issues were fixed, and when there was a re-inspection, John Read Middle School received a score of 100.
“If the issue is associated with food, it gets fixed right away, on the spot,” said Mr. Hartline. If it’s equipment, he said, it takes longer to be fixed so they must generate a plan of action and give a reasonable time frame for the item to be fixed. The time frame must be acceptable to both parties.
Four-point violations include food safety temperatures, if a food container is improperly labeled, if food comes from an improper source, if the hand-wash sink is blocked, having dented cans, improper items in the hand-wash sink, and others, said Mr. Hartline.
“Schools, in general, do a great job,” he said. “They usually score in the 90s, or higher 90s.”
Restaurants in town are inspected quarterly, and Mr. Hartline makes an effort to inspect the schools at least three times a year, he said. One-quarter of the year school is not in session.
“It hasn’t always worked out, but we do our best to keep up with all the inspections. Schools are tricky — we have to inspect them while they’re open,” he said.
“In general, the school kitchens are designed to do what they do and are designed to be able to prepare the quantity for students in that school,” he said.
Currently, all Redding schools are passing. In the fourth quarter of 2012 John Read Middle School scored a 100. Scoring a 100 is rare for any establishment, said Mr. Hartline. Joel Barlow High School received a 95 and Redding Elementary School received a 97.