TARGET 8: Records show school cafeterias lack health inspections

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COLUMBIA - Cafeterias around Columbia feed hundreds of children every year, but records show some did not get the advised amount of health inspections.

According to the Columbia and Boone County food codes, school cafeterias should receive at least one visit from health inspectors every six months.

However, cafeteria inspection records showed 15 schools in the area were only inspected once each during the 2013-14 school year.

The health inspections website said, "Food Establishments are inspected on a routine basis 2-3 times a year depending on the risk level posed by the establishment's food preparation."

Michala Wekenborg-Tomka, environmental public health supervisor, said school cafeterias are always a high risk level three because of the highly susceptible population they serve.

This means any food establishment in that category should be inspected two to three times every year.

Wekenborg-Tomka said school cafeterias usually don't get inspected more than twice a year because of summer break.

"They are not open 365 days a year," Wekenborg-Tomka said. "If they're not open year around, you can't inspect them when they're not operating.

She said some schools lacked inspections in 2013 and 2014 school year because of a staffing problem. Two out of seven inspectors were out on leave.

"If they are not here and they are off on approved leave, there is really nothing we can do about that," Wekenborg-Tomka said.

Parents with children at the schools that lacked inspections were surprised and thought the cafeterias were evaluated far more often.

"I would personally hope once or twice a month considering they're feeding children," parent Maggie Roberts said. "If not that then more, because I mean especially at this age level, these are little kids and they are susceptible to a lot of germs and stuff."

Missouri requires just one inspection a year, and the Columbia and Boone County Health Department has a participation agreement with the Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services to conduct that.

Wekenborg-Tomka said the department did as well as it could considering the staffing problem.

Roberts said she thinks inspectors should try to abide by the county's standards not just the state minimum requirement.

"It might take a little more time and a little more money, but in the end it's probably better cause it keeps everything safer for all the kids," Roberts said.

The schools themselves are not involved in the inspections.

The superintendent for Centralia schools, Darin Ford, said they have no control over the number of inspections.

"We want to maintain a safe and healthy environment in our schools, so if something is wrong we would want that to be fixed," Ford said.

The kitchen manager of Mill Creek Elementary, Gail Moreland, said she abides by a checklist everyday to make sure the kitchen always remains clean.

"The floors always get swept and everything at the end of the day," Moreland said. "We're constantly wiping down the countertops and picking up, you know anybody and everybody that works in the kitchen knows if there's something laying around to pick it up, clean it up, throw it in the dishwasher. Do what you have to do just to keep it clean."

Moreland said two inspections a year are enough for her kitchen because it has no recent violations and the staff works hard to keep it that way.

"If they are doing what they're supposed to be doing, once a year would be right, so I think it just all depends on the kitchen", Moreland said.

Out of the 15 schools that lacked inspections, only one had a violation and it was non-critical.

Wekenborg-Thomka said the 2013-14 school year is the only year she has seen some inspections not completed.

She said she expects a full staff for next year's inspections.