After filing dozens of public records requests, we've learned a lot about the health and safety of school cafeterias.
Following our first story, our investigation continues with a local pediatrician who tells us the risk factors associated with what he considers the most alarming violations.
When you send your child off to school with lunch money, you probably expect they will eat something healthy but hundreds of public records show that may not always be the case.
We looked through violation after violation.
Rusting pipes, fruit flies, dusty fans.
But, mouse droppings, spoiled food, and improper food temperatures, Doctor John Kelley says these violations are alarming.
"I think that anytime you have food that's prepared for a large number of people, it's imperative to make sure the people taking care of that food know how to keep the temperatures at the correct temperatures," explained Dr. Kelley.
Western Mass News brought some of the most common violations noted in these inspection reports to Doctor Kelley, a pediatrician at Redwood Pediatrics in East Longmeadow we asked him what the potential dangers of each violation could be.
Rodent droppings and evidence of rodents in the kitchen or storage area or in the dishroom, Dr. Kelley says, “That's obviously a big problem and that just goes to general cleanliness. Common sense, rodents can track in lots of diseases and cause problems."
Next we asked Doctor Kelley about expired canned food.
"The canned food issue is a botulism issue, which can cause a paralysis, muscular weakness problem."
"Even one violation is one too many…"
Azell Cavaan, spokesperson for Springfield Public Schools, says what many school spokespeople have told Western Mass News throughout our reporting on this story.
"We're human. This is a human enterprise. Sure there might be a time where chicken is stored in a place where it isn't supposed to be stored," Cavaan told us.
Many food services directors have told us they do their best to fulfill their mission: To provide harmless, healthy food to their students
"We stand proud of the hard work that we do to make sure that our kids get safe food." Cavaan noted.
Springfield and other western Massachusetts school districts stand proud of their corrective actions.
Belchertown schools received 6 violations in 2017, the food services director there telling Western Mass News by phone that most of those violations were corrected on site during the inspection.
During a 2016 inspection at Maple Street School in Easthampton, the health inspector noted:
"A bag of unrefrigerated broccoli was disposed of at my request, rather than being served today, because it does not meet temperature requirements."
A spokesperson for Easthampton schools told Western Mass News they are currently 'in between food service directors' and no one could answer questions about their 7 violations in 2017.
But that note about that spoiled broccoli begs the question...what if the health inspector hadn't been there that day?
"If you don't keep food at the proper temperatures, you can get growth of staphylococcus aureus, which is the most common cause of food poisoning. Young children especially can have more serious side effects. That's one of the big risks of gastro neuritis, vomiting and diarrhea," says Dr. Kelley.
Western Mass News requested and read through inspection reports from every school in Franklin, Hampshire and Hampden Counties… except for one.
The records holder for Warwick Community School has neglected to fulfill our public records request.
We have appealed this to the state, and we will update you when we receive a response from the District
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