I-Team: What inspectors find inside Cleveland school cafeterias

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CLEVELAND (WJW)– Chicken sliders and French fries filled the lunch trays at A.J. Rickoff school in Cleveland back on April 1.

On that same day, city inspectors were in the school cafeteria and found mouse droppings.

On another day, health inspectors went to the Jane Addams Business and Career Center and found mouse droppings and food debris on a meat slicer.

“Mouse droppings, that’s nasty,” one parent told the I-Team.

The I-Team reviewed hundreds of pages of health inspection reports from last year for the 93 schools in the Cleveland Metropolitan School District. In the reports, health inspectors found dozens of what they refer to as critical violations. Critical violations include such problems that could cause foodborne illnesses or other health issues. Some examples of critical issues are having rodents or insects in the kitchen area.

We found several schools with violations for bugs and mice, including John Adams and Glenville high schools. And at East Tech last year, an inspector found a dead mouse behind the oven.

Chris Burkardt oversees cafeterias and nutrition for the Cleveland Metropolitan School District, and he says some of the buildings are old.

“We also have some buildings that have multiple doors, like A.J. Rickoff, there are 27 doors,” Burkardt said.

He says the district has had pest control contractors coming into the schools, and the district now also has hired someone on staff to attack the problem, too.

“We now have someone who goes out and just looks at these critical issues to solve them if they happen, or stop them from happening in the first place,” Burkhardt said.

Burkhardt adds, most of the problems at Jane Addams revolved around a food operation run by students.

Meantime, the I-Team also found more than a dozen schools with no violations, including Lincoln West and Mooney.

Inspections are normally done in the spring and the fall, and most schools corrected violations by the next inspection, but not all.

A.J. Rickoff still had a problem with evidence of mice six months after the first inspection.

Burkhardt said they are working to make sure that does not happen again.

He is also trying to correct another critical issue: Inspectors found 12 schools did not have a person on site certified in food safety.

“We have taken great steps to offer these classes to all of our staff,” Burkhardt said.

We also went to Brian Kimball, the man in charge of city of Cleveland inspections. We asked why don’t some of the school cafeterias get shut down when there are bugs or mice.

Kimball said, “Every case is different.” He adds, individual circumstances are considered with every inspection.

He also spoke to us about the importance of having someone in every cafeteria certified in food safety. Kimball said, “It’s important to demonstrate you have someone on site who’s familiar with all of the laws and food safety requirements to put in place, make sure the food is served safely.”

Many parents, of course, are hoping the district corrects the problems soon.

“Get it together,” one mom said. “Clean it up.”

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