Houston Health Dept: Houston school cafeterias good at maintaining food safety


Recently we showed you the restaurants in town with a history of having the most health code violations. We did that by analyzing five years' worth of health inspections and how they're doing now.

After that story, we were asked, why not check school cafeterias?

Coming in at No. 5 on the list of schools with the most health code violations is the cafeteria at Christian Life Center's K-12 private school on Rankin Road in Humble. It's had 47 violations over the past five years from 2008-2012.

Inspectors quarantined the dishwashing machine for not sanitizing properly twice in 2012. And they found improper temperatures and condemned 40 pounds of raw beef for not being thawed properly in 2010. The school only has one additional violation in 2013, for a total of 48.

In an email, Pastor Richard Rodriguez wrote:

"We are disappointed in the results and have taken steps to improve these results. We have new management in the kitchen and more staff to assist us."

"When you look at some of the smaller operations, the private schools, you may see some problems, but overall, they're still pretty good too," said Kathy Barton with the Houston Health Department.

The Houston Health Department inspects 575 school cafeterias, snack bars and other food service areas on campuses. The rest of our list consists of campuses within the Houston Independent School District.

That includes No. 4, Burbank Middle School on Berry Street, which also has 47 health code violations. Inspectors found a walk-in cooler not maintaining proper temperatures in 2012 and mashed potatoes at unsafe temperatures in 2010. Last year, it had six more violation, for a total of 53.

No. 3, with 58 violations, is Barbara Jordan High School off the Eastex Freeway. Inspectors observed a roach on a wall last year and noted improper temperatures at the snack bar in 2011. Their cafeteria was not inspected in 2013.

At No. 2 is Furr Senior High on Mercury Drive with 61 violations. Inspectors found food at improper temperatures in 2012 and again in 2011. Last year, it had three more violations for a total of 64.

No. 1 with 68 total violations is North Forest High School on Mesa Drive. Inspectors observed several baby roaches on serving line counter and a baby roach climbing a wall next to service line in 2012. That was before HISD took over the campus. An additional eight violations in 2013 brings North Forest's total to 76.

HISD declined requests for someone to talk on camera but instead sent us a statement that read in part:

"When a violation is reported, HISD's food services department works with all stakeholders to address the concerns immediately. In addition, critical issues such as cooling and/or refrigeration concerns are addressed within one hour of the report being issued."

"The inspection reports for the schools are very good," Barton said.

Overall, though, parents should not worry, according to the health department. School cafeterias are staffed with professionals and see far fewer violations than commercial restaurants.

"We're very pleased with the responsiveness of the school districts and the way they manage their kitchens," Barton said.

HISD Food Services Response to Health Inspection Reports:

"Food Safety is a top priority for HISD's Food Services Department. Our employees are ServSafe or City of Houston Health Department Certified in food safety, and we have a Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Points (HACCP) plan in place at every HISD campus. We also have a Quality Control Team that works alongside local health department officials to ensure that our facilities maintain the highest standards for food safety compliance.

"When the Health Department completes a report for a building, it can include issues found outside of the kitchen/cafeteria area. Violations are marked by codes and can appear to be repeat offenses if the code is used more than once in multiple locations of the building as is the case with the reports made on Burbank Middle School and Furr, Barbara Jordan and Sam Houston high schools. Across all of our school campuses, when a violation is reported, HISD's Food Services Department works with all stakeholders to address the concerns immediately. In addition, critical issues such as cooling and/or refrigeration concerns are addressed within one hour of the report being issued.

"In the few cases where sanitation issues have been reported on a campus, all campus personnel receive additional training and remain under close supervision to make sure all safe sanitation practices are reinforced. The violations regarding pest control reported at Furr, Barbara Jordan and Sam Houston high schools were quickly and properly addressed. The cafeteria managers participated in an integrated pest management program using non-toxic substances to control pest and worked with pest control operators to eliminate the issues within the kitchen and food storage areas."

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