BURLINGTON COUNTY, N.J. – Could lunches deemed “healthy” actually be unhealthier than the “unhealthy” food?
Parents are left to wonder after a number of health inspections of “healthy” lunches across New Jersey schools found a plethora of violations that could lead to students becoming ill.
For example, “Burlington County health inspectors found 5 pounds of spoiled lettuce in a refrigerator at Pemberton High School, along with a ‘heavy accumulation’ of dust that could fall into food, and tuna sandwiches that weren’t properly chilled,” the Burlington County Times reports.
All told, Burlington County Health Department found health code violations at 87 of the 141 school food service sites since the beginning of the year.
In Bucks County, inspectors removed egg salad and tuna salad offerings from a Pennsbury West High School salad bar because they were too warm and feared bacteria could grow, according to the Intelligencer.
Flies were “breeding” in “dirty wet linens” at a kitchen in Bucks County Technical High School in Bristol Township.
Inspectors found cafeteria workers at Souderton Area High School had “bagged sandwiches barehanded and handled dirty dishes — and then clean ones — without washing their hands,” according to the paper.
In Bucks and Montgomery counties, inspectors found violations in 152 of 179 kitchens — 114 of them being “critical violations.”
They come as schools are preparing more meals on site with fresh ingredients, like fruits and vegetables, and are moving away from processed foods — a key tenant of the school lunch rules pushed by First Lady Michelle Obama in 2010.
For example, Bucks County inspectors observed “a cafeteria worker chop and serve celery ‘without first washing the celery’” at School Lane Charter School in Bensalem. Another was observed using a cell phone “without removing gloves that were used to handle food.”
“In my mind it’s unacceptable,” parent Dolores Averona tells the Intelligencer, referring to rodent droppings being found. “We’re sending our children to a school, yes to be educated, but to partake in lunch under the impression they’re being fed a meal that is going to be just as good as something I’d serve at home.”
“School cafeterias also aren’t hiring the most qualified people for these cafeterias,” says parent Tara Bodnar, whose daughter’s school had four violations. She was referring to advertisements for part-time kitchen workers in a school newsletter.
“If a school moves to more scratch cooking, there will be greater challenges associated with protecting the food that is served,” Kevin Roberts, director of the Center of Excellent for Food Safety Research in Child Nutrition at Kansas State University tells the Intelligencer. “The more process you implement within the system, the greater the risk.”
“If they are finding it (bugs or feces) on the (cooked) food, that is a concern,” Mike Doyle, director of the Center for Food Safety at the University of Georgia. “It’s not pleasant to find rodent pellets in your flour, but if you cook it — that is what cooking is for — to kill the harmful bacteria.”
So far, the apparent inadequacy of fresh food preparation methods by the government education system is not an issue Republicans in Congress have acknowledged as they grapple with reauthorizing the Healthy, Hunger Free Kids Act, the bill championed by Michelle Obama that brought about the changes.