Action News Jax Investigates: Dead mice, rat droppings, moldy food in school cafeteria inspections

Duval County Public School District maintains 95% of reports pass first inspection

FLORIDA — Duval County Public Schools serve 16 million meals a year, but some cafeterias and kitchens have more than just students.

“When you see a dead mouse in this inspection report, you think what?” Action News Jax Ben Becker asked Iris Moody who has a son that goes to Andrew Jackson High School and is a substitute teacher. “I think unsanitary most definitely.”

In an Action News Jax investigation, we went through 237 cafeteria inspection reports for every school in Duval County during the 2020-21 school year.

Action News Jax discovered five schools with evidence of rats or rodents:

  • Andrew Jackson - Dead mouse found in sticky trap
  • Phillip Randolph Academies - Rat/mouse droppings
  • Ribault Middle - Boxes that have been shredded and chewed up
  • Stanton - Large amounts of mice/rat droppings
  • West Riverside Elementary - Rat droppings found near an ice machine

“There are some inspection reports that clearly need to be addressed,” says Tracy Pierce, the spokesperson for DCPS.

Action News Jax uncovered 357 violations in all, including moldy or spoiled food like carrots, cucumbers, bread and cheese, but Pierce says these violations are by far the exception and not the rule.

“On the whole the district does a fabulous job,” says Pierce. “95% of these reports are passed on first inspection.”

But what about that 5%? Action News Jax first told you last school year we went through more than 200 inspection reports and discovered hundreds of violations - eight inspections had live or dead bugs, including roaches.

Becker e-mailed a request for an interview with the Duval County Department of Health who conducts the school cafeteria inspections, but was told “I think we will just respectfully decline this interview.”

But in February 2020, the health department did sit down with Becker.

”Do schools know when an inspection coming?,” Becker asked Adeline Dobson, the certified food coordinator for the Duval County Department of Health. “No,” said Dobson. “Those are unannounced visits,” responded Becker. “Surprise,” said Dobson.

Dobson told Becker most local schools are inspected three times a year and some quarterly.

The department doesn’t give out grades, but Becker asked Dobson for her personal opinion about DCPS. ”I would give them a B, solid B,” said Dobson.

“Solid B?” responded Becker, “Not an A, but not a C?” asked Becker. “Everyone has room for improvement,” says Dobson.

Becker e-mailed the findings of his Action News Jax investigation to Chartwells, who is the food service provider for the school district.

Chartwells responded with this statement:

“Our Chartwells team at Duval County Public Schools works closely with the local health department to ensure our program is built on the highest standards for food safety. We welcome unannounced visits from the health inspectors multiple times each year in all of our schools, along with their comprehensive checklist of hundreds of different evaluation points.

Given recent reports, we want to help students and families understand that our kitchens are safe, clean and sanitary and assure everyone we took immediate action to address the recommendations as soon as they were made.

Understanding there is always room for improvement, we will continue to work with a team from global safety leader Underwriter Laboratories’ (UL) Everclean to conduct third-party audits and random inspections in all schools to reinforce rigorous health and safety policies inherent in our operations and make changes where needed. "

“When you tell your son what was found, what do think his reaction will be?,” Becker asked Moody. “He’ll tell me he’s not eating out of that cafeteria and I’ll be providing lunch for the next school year, I already know that,” Moody said.

How did other local school districts fare?

St. Johns County: 53 violations, including three for employees not wearing hair nets - but no rats, rodents or roaches.

Clay County: 54, temperature violations – but no rats, rodents or roaches.

Here are links to all the school districts in our area:

BAKER COUNTY

Action News Jax has reached out to the school district to inquire how the district is making inspection reports available online. We have yet to hear back.

BRADFORD COUNTY

https://www.bradfordschools.org/domain/44

CLAY COUNTY

https://sites.google.com/myoneclay.net/fns/menus?authuser=0

COLUMBIA COUNTY

https://www.columbiak12.com/en-US/food-services-09d217e3

DUVAL COUNTY

https://dcps.duvalschools.org/Page/26570

NASSAU COUNTY

https://www.nassau.k12.fl.us/site/default.aspx?PageType=14&DomainID=50&PageID=102&ModuleInstanceID=167&ViewID=1e008a8a-8e8a-4ca0-9472-a8f4a723a4a7&IsMoreExpandedView=True

PUTNAM COUNTY

https://www.schoolnutritionandfitness.com/index.php?page=cupg2&sid=2011131651352108

ST. JOHNS COUNTY

https://www.stjohns.k12.fl.us/food/department-of-health-reports/

UNION COUNTY

https://drive.google.com/drive/folders/1f1wmdNshfrXafIwhg2qQGsL305rptFhT