You can count on Contact 13 to go behind the scenes in local restaurants to make sure the food they are serving you is safe. But what about the places where your children eat? School cafeterias in Clark County serve 1.3 million meals to students every week.
Here's what we learned when we investigated individual complaints and took a deep dive into the Southern Nevada Health District reports.
Parents and students share their concerns
Kristy Meyer, mom of a student at Foothill High School told us about a disturbing experience her daughter had during lunch. Mikayla saw a friend eating a chicken sandwich that appeared to contain green mold. "I don't ever want to eat school lunch again," Mikayla told us. She took a photo of the sandwich.
"I think that the quality control should be more than what you're feeding in a restaurant. These are our kids!" mom Kristy Meyer added.
She's not the only parent to contact 13 Action News with concerns. Delmy Hernandez has four kids in CCSD schools. Her daughter was served these oranges for breakfast at Cimarron High School.
"How are they feeding my kids this?! My kids, every kid!"
A school cafeteria employee told us that if this happens, the student can bring it back and get another one.
"Right. My thoughts on that, it's like, it shouldn't even be there. You know? Somebody should be monitoring the food that is there," Hernandez added.
What's in the official inspection reports?
Contact 13 requested the Southern Nevada Health District inspection reports for every school to see how often these types of problems really happen. Records from the past 2 years show that they rarely go below an A grade. The most common thing we saw on inspection reports across the district was three words: "No violations observed."
Almost all of the food served in school cafeterias is cooked in one central kitchen and bakery. The central kitchen inspection reports included no more than eight demerits and one B downgrade in the past 2 years. There were a few violations for employee handwashing, food thawing and flies on food contact surfaces.
Central Kitchen inspection reports:
But some parents are still concerned about the food service facilities at their child's school.
A parent at Cadwallader Middle School told us about rats that were seen at the school and how it upset her daughter. "She does not eat school lunch here. She refuses to and I actually don't blame her," said Tonya Heine. The Health District confirmed a rat infestation there in late November after school staff reported seeing rodents in the cafeteria.
Legacy High School also self-reported a rodent problem at the school including the kitchen in August. The Health District was still finding rodent feces there in November.
At Silverado High School, Health District records confirm an ongoing cockroach infestation in the classroom where they teach kids how to cook.
Our investigation found that most of the problems at high schools occurred at snack bars and concession stands. Violations included expired Lunchables at Centennial, expired milk at Southwest CTA and a dirty hot dog roller and expired canned beans at Spring Valley.
CCSD told us that no one was available for an on-camera interview but they did send this statement.
The Clark County School District (CCSD) adheres to very strict food safety guidelines when it comes to providing over 1.3 million nutritious meals to students every week. All school-site kitchen areas and CCSD’s central kitchen are inspected periodically by the Southern Nevada Health District to ensure food safety guidelines are met.
Inspections conducted by the Southern Nevada Health District routinely receive ‘A’ grades with no violations. However, in the rare instances a situation or area is not up to standard, action is immediately taken to remedy that matter, which can include individual employee coaching and re-training of proper procedures for safe food handling.
Thank you for pointing out that the 'news is good' regarding CCSD food inspections. We also appreciate you acknowledging our staff's diligent work by adding ‘local restaurants could take a lesson in good public health practices from CCSD cafeterias.
Additionally, CCSD proactively self-reports to the Southern Nevada Health District if a possible issue is discovered that could potentially be a risk factor. One instance includes a self-report to the Southern Nevada Health District when staff suspected rodents at Ralph Cadwallader Middle School. However, a survey of the school snack store and kitchen by the Southern Nevada Health district did not reveal evidence of rodent presence.
CCSD takes great efforts to maintain high-quality control standards for meals prepared for students. In the rare instance a food item does not appear to meet quality standards, it is critical for the incident to be reported to food service staff at the school site and the food item also be returned to the kitchen. This will allow staff to file a report and send the item out for testing in a laboratory to identify any potential inconsistencies.
Indeed some local restaurants could take a lesson in good health practices from CCSD cafeterias. Considering the number of facilities and the number of meals served, the overall results are positive. School facilities are inspected on average of once or twice per year. Despite complaints, some of which are found to be valid, most schools rarely go below an A grade. But even when parents and students document food problems, the complaints in our story could still be considered unsubstantiated because the health inspectors don't witness it themselves.
Here's a summary of the issues reported at CCSD schools on 2017 inspection reports. Click on the name of the school to see the inspection report.
- Cunningham - 2/1 food - 3A (improper pest control - air curtain, clogged handsink).
- Dearing - 3/1 complaint unsubstantiated - complainant states there are pigeons in the lunch room. The doors are kept open during lunch allowing pigeons to fly in. Inspector found doors were open but at the time, no pigeons were observed in the room so couldn't verify complaint.
- Elizondo - 3/9/17, 5 demerits A grade for insufficient hot water.
- Griffith - 4/17 complaint "doors are open and pigeons are all over the kitchen and cafeteria. Tables in cafeteria not clean." Staff found no evidence of birds. Unsubstantiated.
- Lowman - 3/23/17, 3A, vermin point of entry due to gap at back delivery door leading to kitchen.
- Martinez - Complaint: Concern that food being served to children is not meeting regulation--improper temps and improper inspection. Ravioli served cold and chicken sandwich bread served with mold on it. This was during the week of Feb. 22. Inspection on March 6 didn't find same problems so complaint could not be substantiated.
- Morrow - 4/21/17, 5 demerits, no hot water, critical violation.
- Peterson - 1/5/17, 5A critical violation for improper handwashing--food handler touched face and glasses and continued to handle food.
- Alexander Dawson - 2/10/17 - Food 5A (hot water not hot enough).
- Ries - 5/3/17 Food - 8A (improper handwashing after picking scoop up off floor; lunch counter too close to handsink splash zone).
- Southern Highlands Prep - 4/25/17 Food - 8A (bean and cheese dip and yogurt in temperature danger zone).
- Ullom - 2/1/17 Food - 8A chicken fingers and tater tots at unsafe temperatures.
- Variety - 1/9/17 Food - 3A (thermometer missing and sanitizer test strips).
- Bob Bailey - August food inspections-low sanitizer mix in solutions to clean.
- Ernest Becker - Sept food inspection - Hand sink not stocked properly, air curtain not turned on during delivery.
- Faiss - 3/21/17 complaint investigation: Student reported "three of my friends who ate in the cafeteria had diarrhea last Tuesday evening." Also said hot dogs were served three days in a row and "garbage cans not emptied every day. It is unsanitary." Complaint could not be substantiated. 5/10/17: Epidemiological investigation found COMPLAINT VALID. Complaint about "possible outbreak of GI." Custodian reported "that he might have cleaned up three emetic (vomiting) events."
- Faith Lutheran - 4/28/17 food: 8-demerit A, scrambled eggs and breakfast sandwich at unsafe temperatures, no sanitizer in bucket.
- Hyde Park - 9/6 food - 0A but- insufficient sanitizer on wiping cloths, yogurt and milk at unsafe temps in walk-in.
- Indian Springs - 4/6 food - 0A; another 3A with notation for food improperly thawed/fruits/vegetables not washed prior to service.
- Lawrence - 3/21 Valid complaint. Student who filed complaint said "The food is not covered and there are always flies hovering over it. This can lead to diseases. Three of my friends who ate in the cafeteria had diarrhea last Tuesday evening. The garbage cans are not emptied every day. This means there is a bad smell when we enter the cafeteria and it is unsanitary." Inspector comments: "Odd smell present in school cafeteria. Informed by the custodian that there is an active work order in for the odor problem but so far have been unable to determine the cause or how to remedy it."
- Tarkanian - 3/22 food - 3A (no paper towels at handsink).
Additional documents, complaints and inspection reports for schools listed:
Silverado High School, complaints, inspection reports and pest control reports
Legacy High School