We recommend not reading this story over lunch.
New York City health inspectors found signs of flies, cockroaches, rats and other “serious” violations of food safety regulations in 300 public school cafeterias during recent inspections, according to a Gothamist analysis of last year’s health department inspection data. This is about one-fifth of the 1,400 school buildings managed by the education department. Figures show private schools perform worse than their counterparts in the education sector. Since 2021, private school inspections have found serious violations at twice the rate of public schools.
Health experts say one or two violations don’t necessarily lead to an outbreak of foodborne illness. But a closer look at the data reveals that more than 230 schools were repeat offenders and had serious violations in at least two inspections over the past two years. Donald Schaffner, professor of food science and chair of the Department of Food Science, said the violations over the years were flagged as “serious” and included pests, poor sanitation and potential cross-contamination, which increased the risk of food poisoning. at Rutgers University.
“If the same facility keeps getting compromised by the same thing, that’s a bad sign,” Schaffner said. “The focus should be on serious breaches because of the risks they pose.”
The education department says school food has not caused any documented medical problems. Students interviewed by Gothamist were generally positive about the safety of their lunches — if not the taste. Frances Sullender, a sixth-grader at Robert F. Wagner Jr. Middle School for the Arts and Technology in Long Island City, Queens, lamented the quality of many menu items. Wagner was cited for signs of mice during three recent inspections.
“Mushy green beans, weird corn,” she said dismissively. “And the vegan chicken nuggets that everyone hates.”
According to the Department of Education, New York City public schools serve an average of more than 230,000 breakfasts and 550,000 lunches per day. The city budgeted nearly $550 million for food services last year, a figure that includes supplies and worker wages. Free meals can be a lifeline for New Yorkers, about 15% of whom are food insecure.
City health inspectors visit every school cafeteria at least once a year to ensure employees are following food safety rules. They issued a host of possible violations to the school, ranging from the aforementioned pests to missing CPR posters and exposed light bulbs.
“New York City Public Schools is proud to work closely with the Department of Health to ensure our young people have access to healthy, nutritious and delicious food every day,” Department of Education spokesperson Jenna Lyle said in an email. meals.” “Our inspections help us ensure that our hardworking and dedicated staff are following all best practices and resolving any issues that may arise.”
Stuyvesant High School, a prestigious specialized school in lower Manhattan, was among the “serious” repeat offenders. Signs of flies or rats have been found in four of the last five health inspections.
“Foul flies or food/refuse/sewage associated (FRSA) flies are present in food and/or non-food areas of the facility. Filth flies include house flies, house flies, blow flies, bottle flies, and flesh flies,” the school’s Check results read.
Luca Ottaviano, a 10th grader at Stuyvesant, isn’t worried about the pest reports.
“I’d seen rats in school before, but I didn’t think much of it,” he said. “At the end of the day, this is New York City. Some of this is motivated by [their] control. “
Schaffner said New York City’s aging school buildings make pest control particularly challenging.
“It’s kind of disgusting,” he said, “and it’s hard sometimes. If you have an aging facility and poor infrastructure, if you can’t keep these critters out, they’re going to keep coming in.”
Data shows that, on average, private schools have more serious violations than public schools. Inspectors find about one serious violation in every private school inspection, compared with about half of the violations in public school cafeterias.
Adams made school food a priority early in his term as mayor, most notably with his “Vegan Fridays” initiative. Most schools have salad bars, and a few offer halal meals. About 100 school buildings have enhanced food court-style cafeterias following a $50 million investment announced in late 2022.
But Chalkbeat reports that school food budgets were cut by $60 million in November, and popular dishes like burritos, salads and chips are now off the February menu.
Queenie Cao, a student at Stuyvesant University, said Adams was “trying to take out the cookies, chips and chicken nuggets.” Last year, she found a worm in her salad and swore off school lunches. “What should we eat?” she added. “His stale bread?”
But most students interviewed by Gothamist said that while they weren’t blown away by the taste, the food was safe and did provide them with the energy they needed to get through a day of school. Ninth grader Charlie DeBlois praised the “beautiful” fruit salad served in the Stuyvesant cafeteria and offered nuanced thoughts on other menu items.
“It’s very high-volume production,” he said. “So I think it’s not good for you, but I don’t feel bad after eating it.”