From mouse poop to sewer lines connected to sinks, find out how your kids’ school scored on food safety.
JEFFERSONVILLE, Ind. — As the school year starts in Southern Indiana, students are not the only ones facing exams. Throughout the year, school cafeterias face their own pop quizzes when health inspectors visit to make sure food is served safely.
The FOCUS team sorted through more than 200 Clark County Health Department inspection reports from 2019 through 2021 and here is what we found.
Critical vs. non-critical violations
In Indiana, establishments pass or fail based on the severeness of violations. Each facility is graded and violations are divided into critical and non-critical categories.
“Critical violations are ones that are directly correlated with health hazards, those are ones we try to reduce as much as possible,” Brandon Perkins, the Chief Food Specialist at the Clark County Health Department, explained.
To date, FOCUS found nearly 50 critical violations across all Clark County schools in the last three years.
Something seemingly as simple as a dented can is a critical violation because it could compromise the integrity of the can and lead to food contamination.
Boxes stored on the floor are considered non-critical, but inspectors addressed that violation in eight schools in the last three years, including two violations at Silver Creek Middle School.
“There’s a risk of contamination if the floor gets exposed to splash or fluids or water – keeping items elevated off the floor reduces that risk,” Perkins said.
Boxes of food on the ground were reported at the following schools:
- Silver Creek Middle (2020 & 2021)
- Riverside Elementary (2019)
- Renaissance Academy (2019 & 2020)
- Jonathan Jennings Elementary (2021)
- St. Anthony (2019, 2020)
- Clarksville Middle (2021)
- St. John Paul II Catholic School (2020)
- Rock Creek Community Academy (2020)
In two different schools, health inspectors noticed “significant amounts of mice droppings” throughout the facilities.
At Bridgepoint Elementary in 2019, droppings were found on the lids of peanut butter containers. In the spring of 2021, inspectors found “significant amounts of mice droppings in dry storage with minimal amounts throughout the facility” at New Washington Elementary School. They recommended an increase in pest control.
“We sometimes see it when there’s a change in the weather and mice will start to come inside the building,” Perkins pointed out. “Generally though, all of our facilities have some sort of pest control so even if they do find an issue with mice there will be someone to take care of that.”
Most common issue
The most reoccurring issue found in schools was having a three-compartment sink directly connected to the sewer line.
“If there’s a direct connection to the sewer, the sewage backs up into the sink and then possibly contaminates any food or equipment that’s inside those sinks,” Perkins explained.
He said this is common in older buildings and recommends the fix during major remodels.
We saw this issue in a dozen schools:
- W.E. Wilson Elementary (2019)
- Utica Elementary (2019)
- Spring Hill Elementary (2019)
- Rock Creek Community Academy (2019)
- River Valley Middle (2019 & 2021)
- Pleasant Ridge Elementary (2019)
- Parkview Middle (2019)
- Jonathan Jennings Elementary (2019 & 2020)
- Charlestown Middle (2019, 2020, 2021)
- Bridgepoint Elementary* (2019)
- Clarksville Middle (2021)
- Parkwood Elementary (2021)
*Bridgepoint Elementary closed in 2021 following district budget cuts
How the pandemic comes into play
Perkins points out inspections have changed since the pandemic as health officials now vet COVID-19-related complaints.
FOCUS found there were nine COVID-19-related complaints in 2020 and six in 2021 at schools in Clark County. According to the reports we obtained, each of those issues was addressed.
RELATED: Sparked by pandemic fallout, homeschooling surges across US
Heading into the new school year, health officials said they will continue to monitor social distancing and make sure frequently touched areas are extra clean.
“We want to make sure that none of those kids get sick because of food or contamination so we want to take as many steps and check as many things as we can,” Perkins said.
Top of the class
So far in 2021, these nine schools have perfect scores with no violations:
- Eastlawn Head Start
- Henryville High School
- Henryville Elementary
- Northaven Elementary
- Pleasant Ridge Elementary
- Riverside Elementary
- St. John Paul II Catholic School
- Thomas Jefferson Elementary
- W.E. Wilson Elementary
- Utica Elementary
Check out your kids’ school
Health Officials perform surprise inspections twice a year, but if you want to see those results, you will likely need to ask for them. In Indiana, reports and scores are not required to be posted online.
To see what inspectors found at your child’s school, contact your local health department and request to see the Retail Food Safety Inspection Reports.
Have a story tip? Contact the FOCUS Investigative team at [email protected]