According to state law, local health inspectors must inspect school cafeterias at least twice a year.
These twice-yearly inspection reports are public records, but none of them are available online, so to find out what's going on behind the scenes in your child's school cafeteria, we filed dozens of public records requests.
We read through hundreds of pages of these reports to find out which cafeterias are sparkling clean and which ones might have some work to do.
From mouse droppings to expired pizza, some of the violations in school cafeterias jump out at you.
"It is kinda gross," said Dr. John Kelley with Redwood Pediatrics.
Kelley told Western Mass News about the potential dangers of some of the most common violations in these reports, which include:
food stored at improper temperatures
"I think a lot of parents may not even realize that it was food poisoning. They pass it off as a 24-hour bug," Kelley said.
Springfield Public Schools - the largest public school system in our area - has a lengthy list of recent violations.
Out of inspection reports for 58 schools we received from the city of Springfield, 44 of those schools had at least one violation in their cafeterias in 2017. That's 76 percent of schools in the city.
"We have 60 buildings...each getting inspected twice a year, and the small number of infractions that are cited, I think speaks to the district's proactive approach to food safety and sanitary issues," said Springfield Public Schools spokesperson Azell Cavaan.
Cavaan showed us around Forest Park Middle school's cafeteria - one of the only schools with no violations at its most recent inspection.
"We work very hard every single day to make sure that the food that is served is safe for the kids and healthy for the kids," Cavaan noted.
We consulted a food safety expert at the University of Massachusetts Amherst. Amanda Kinchla said that corrective actions are the most important thing to look for in an inspection report.
For example, at Mary Walsh School in Springfield, there were a dozen violations in 2016 and by 2017, they received three violations showing their work on corrective actions.
Also, it's not just in Springfield.
In 2017 in Franklin County, 10 schools had at least one violation. In Hampshire County, 16 schools, and in Hampden County where there are - keep in mind, the most schools - 59 schools had at least one violation in 2017.
While the violations in school cafeterias range from a dusty ceiling vent to warm milk, some trends are apparent.
Ralph C. Mahar Regional High School and the elementary schools in Orange have received violations for a years-long rodent infestation.
Even though we requested reports dating back to 2013, the records officer provided us with reports from 2015 to present.
Jacki Dillenback, director of food services for all the schools in Orange, told Western Mass News by phone that staffing issues are to blame for an increase in violations related to rodents.
New this school year, the district added a breakfast program. Dillenback said it's used by 85 percent of students, adding a whole new meal with no additional staff, this creating near impossibility.
Along with citations for rodent droppings in the kitchen, Mahar and Fisher Hill Elementary School were both cited for leaving bags of onions on the floor.
Fisher Hill was also cited for dirty pans and the other elementary school, Dexter Park, deemed 'not rodent proof' in November 2017.
The question raised after reading through all of these violations is: are these violations concerning for the health and safety of students?
Friday on Eleven@11, Dr. Kelley tells us about a violation that could pose serious health concerns for children and what signs you can look out for.
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