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2 Investigators: Suburban School Cafeterias Fall Short In Inspections

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A salad bar at a suburban school district. (CBS)

A salad bar at a suburban school district. (CBS)

Pam Zekman Pam Zekman
Pulitzer-prize winning reporter Pam Zekman serves on CBS 2 Chicago’s...
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(CBS) — Food not kept cold enough. Dishwasher water not kept hot enough.  Wiping cloths not properly sanitized — those are just a few of the critical health-code violations found by the 2 Investigators after reviewing  hundreds of  inspection reports from Lake, DuPage, Kane, Will and Cook counties.

And as reporter Pam Zekman learned, they’re violations that can make your children sick.

Round Lake Community High School failed three inspections this year by the Lake County Health Department.  The violations included not keeping deli meat, cheese and salad bar items at 40 degrees or cooler — the temperature that protects food from growing bacteria.

Round Lake District 116 Superintendent Constance Collins said she was very concerned about the failing grades.

“We want to know that the food that is being served is at the right temperature so that our children are healthy and that we don’t have any illnesses as a result,” she says.

Ice under the deli foods was not keeping the food cold enough. The solution? Putting “ice blankets” on top of the cold cuts and vegetables between lunch periods.

Metea Valley High school in Aurora also had repeated temperature violations on their sandwich line, according to Du Page County Health Department inspection reports.

For example, the reports show inspectors found sliced turkey at 55 degrees, cheese at 52 degrees and turkey wraps at 58 degrees — all well above the 40-degree safety zone.

That is potentially dangerous to a students’ health, according to food safety expert Kantha Shelke.

“That means the bacteria have been multiplying for some time so every slice here is a problem waiting to happen,” she says.

Janet Buglio, a spokeswoman for Metea Valley High School, says student safety is a top priority for the district and that the violations were corrected before the inspectors left.

York High School in Elmhurst also had similar food-temperature violations at its salad bar and issues sanitizing dishes.  The school has been cited four times by the Du Page County Health Department for its dishwasher not having hot water at the 160-degree temperature vital to sanitize dishes and silverware.

That shocked one York High parent when she was told about the violations.

“If you’re not sanitizing your dishes any sickness and germs and everything is going to be passed on from kid to kid,” Laura Martin says.

In a letter to the parents of York students, School Superintendent David Pruneau said the problem was caused by a faulty thermostat and a temperature gauge that was replaced.

As for the temperature violations, Pruneau said extra precautions were taken by “freezing or super-cooling foods prior to displaying them in the salad bar.” He also said a “thorough cleaning of the salad bar coils has resulted in restoration of maximum cooling capacity.”

“Because student and staff safety is of paramount importance we are implementing a preventative maintenance schedule to preempt and avoid future issues of this nature,” he added.

During three inspections by the Will County Health Department at Lockport Township High school’s east campus, inspectors found either too little or too much sanitizer in the cleaning rags — both a critical risk to students because the cloths are used to sanitize counters where food is prepared and cafeteria tables where children eat.

“If you use too much of it, it could possibly be toxic,” Shelke says.

If there’s not enough sanitizer, the rags will not do their job, she adds.

Kim Brehm, a spokeswoman the high school, said officials have taken corrective action “to prevent this error from occurring again.”

“The district is requiring our food service provider to immediately implement additional training,” she said. “The school remains committed to holding our district to the highest standards.”

Inspection reports CBS 2 reviewed from the collar counties found 108 schools with sanitizing issues and 147 with temperature violations. All of those are critical health code violations.

“There is no excuse for this at all,” Shelke says.

Each of the schools corrected the violations and passed their most recent inspections.

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