SALEM, Ore. (AP) — Inspection reports from Oregon school districts show that some schools have persistent problems meeting health and safety standards in their cafeterias while a few don't meet federal standards for twice-a-year inspections.
The Salem Statesman Journal investigation also found that about a third of the state's 196 school districts can't or won't produce a report they are required to make public. The paper also said most districts post the inspections in kitchens, out of public view.
Despite a list of problems, the inspection reports obtained by the newspaper from two-thirds of the state's districts also showed most meet lunchroom standards and quickly correct problems.
Health officials told the paper the schools generally do a better job than restaurants.
"Meals prepared and served in Oregon's K-12 schools, both public and private, appear to be extremely safe from a foodborne disease perspective," said Dr. Bill Keene, clinical epidemiologist at the Oregon Public Health Division. "Outbreaks are almost unheard of."
Among the problems the reports turned up:
- Signs of rodents in several districts, including Silverton, Banks, Centennial, Eugene and Portland.
- At Portland's Llewellyn Elementary School, an inspector found mouse droppings on a tray holding packages of rolls. A manager told the inspector she had found multiple bags of rolls with chew holes that morning.
- Pink slime and mold in milk and ice machines in more than a dozen schools in districts including Beaverton, Corvallis, Eugene, Hillsboro and Oakridge.
- Out-of-date food in districts including Salem, Beaverton, Corvallis and Hillsboro. Regulations generally call for food to be consumed within seven days of being opened.
- At Franklin Elementary School in Corvallis, an inspector noted moldy applesauce, green beans, and mandarin oranges, open for two to four weeks. At Corvallis High School, an inspector found a container of meat sauce opened for more than four months.
- Broken equipment, the most-cited problem.
At a number of schools, rinse water wasn't hot enough to kill germs on dishes. At Yoncalla Elementary, inspectors found that sewage was able to back up into the produce washing sink.
Other problems involved staff behavior.
In February, Rogue River elementary and middle schools were written up because staff members were seen grazing food from student lunch trays while students were eating and were seen eating food they took from the garbage.
Although not technically a violation, "It is not a hygienic practice that should be modeled to children in school," the inspector wrote.
From 1998 to 2011, only two of 1,716 gastroenteritis outbreaks in the state were convincingly linked to school-prepared meals. Only a few more were either possibly linked or couldn't be ruled out as linked, Keene said.
Oregon law exempts school cafeterias from restaurant inspection requirements, but a 2004 federal law requires cafeterias participating in federally funded school meal programs to be inspected twice a year.
State education departments must monitor inspections, and reports must be posted in a visible location and made available to the public on request.
The paper found that last year, 51 Oregon schools had only one inspection, and four had no inspections.
The Oregon Department of Education requires school districts to contract with county health departments to inspect school cafeterias.
The health departments, though, have no regulatory authority over the districts. That responsibility lies with the department, which says it doesn't get the reports but relies on the health departments to let it know when a serious problem doesn't get corrected.
Information from: Statesman Journal, http://www.statesmanjournal.com
Copyright 2012 The Associated Press