Action News Jax Investigates school cafeteria inspections

Action News Jax at 5:30 p.m.

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — Action News Jax investigates if local schools are making the grade when it comes to food health and safety.

Duval County Public Schools serves 16 million meals a year, but one teacher tells Action News Jax’s Ben Becker the district is failing students when it comes to food.

"What would you compare the food to?” asked Becker.

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“Can’t even say dog food,” said the teacher who did not want to be identified. “I’ve seen better dog food than that."

Action News Jax went through more than 200 inspection reports from this school year and discovered hundreds of violations:

  • 25 inspections where garbage was not being stored or disposed of properly
  • 9 inspections where food was being stored at the wrong temperature
  • 8 inspections where live or dead bugs were found, including roaches

Schools with the most notable violations included Arlington Heights Elementary School, Chimney Lakes Elementary School, Woodland Acres Elementary School and James Weldon Johnson Middle School.

“Do schools know when an inspection coming?” Becker asked Adeline Dobson, the certified food coordinator for the Duval County Department of Health.

“No, those are unannounced visits,” said Dobson.

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

The department does not give out grades, but Becker asked Dobson for her personal opinion about Duval County schools.

“I would give them a B,” said Dobson. ”Everyone has room for improvement."

In 2017, Action News Jax told you that parents at Crystal Springs Elementary School received a letter from the principal stating the cafeteria was closed because of “pests that were found in students’ food.”

Both incidents happened under the watch of food service contractor Chartwells, which has held the contract since 2009.

In 2015, Chartwells settled a lawsuit with the Washington D.C. public schools for nearly $20 million.

The lawsuit alleged that Chartwells delivered food late, and that it was of poor quality and sometimes spoiled.

Becker emailed Action News Jax’s findings to the school district and requested a sit-down interview with either the district or Chartwells, but was sent statements from each:

Duval County Public Schools:

“State inspections of school kitchens are tests on which we prefer to see a perfect grade every time. We don’t always hit that mark, but pursuit of perfection has provided Duval’s students overall with a very healthy environment. More than 90 percent of inspections are satisfactory on first inspection. Situations that require re-inspection are resolved as rapidly as possible. But don’t take our word for it. Current inspections are posted on our website. We encourage parents to see the actual data for their school. If they have a concern, they can absolutely call their principal or bring it to the attention of their school advisory committee.

“About 117,000 meals are served daily in more than 155 school cafeterias. Our team does a tremendous job developing and taste-testing recipes that meet required nutritional goals and appeal to young taste buds. Many students eat breakfast, lunch and dinner with us.

“Parents and students are also encouraged to provide input on food quality through our ongoing survey: www.duvalschools.org/foodsurvey

Chartwells:

“As the Chartwells K12 team at Duval County Public Schools, there’s nothing we take more seriously than the health and safety of the students and the food we serve. While we have a strong track record of health inspection scores, we recognize that one issue is one too many and there’s always opportunities for improvement. That’s why we welcome visits from the local health inspectors.

“Our standard process is to immediately address any item as soon as it is identified and work to ensure that it doesn’t happen again. Students and parents can rest assured we are continually providing additional training for our staff. This includes conducting our own daily inspections, as well as working with top health and safety experts and former health inspectors to ensure that we remain focused on meeting and exceeding expectations every day.

"We’re proud of the food we serve and the way our talented team of chefs and dietitians work with students to design menus they love, while also meeting the National School Lunch Program guidelines set by the USDA.“

Meantime, the teacher Becker spoke with worries this a food fight the district is not winning,

“I think they don’t have enough people to do what needs to be done," the teacher said.

Experts say one concern with any food issue at school is that a child’s immune system is not as strong as an adult’s, and they could be more vulnerable to getting sick. If children see dirty tables or other unsanitary conditions, they should tell their parents.

Here are links to inspection reports for all of our local county public schools:

Baker County:

Inspection reports are not available online, but can be requested:

Bradford County:

Columbia County:

Clay County:

Duval County:

Nassau County:

Putnam County:

St. Johns County:

Union County: