A report on NYC public schools has found that nearly half had at least one dangerous health code violation in 2017, including roaches and mice and rat droppings.
Student journalists from the CUNY Graduate School of Journalism analyzed Health Department data to find over 1,000 dangerous violations in almost 700 schools out of 1,407 total NYC public schools.
The analysis discovered that 617 school kitchens and cafeterias contained evidence of vermin including cockroaches, mice, rats, and flies.
“City health inspectors discovered an average of two violations per school cafeteria visit,” according to the report. “While some schools had no violations, as Health Department officials pointed out, other racked up more, driving up the average.”
“There’s different levels and kinds of violations,” explained report co-author Mallory Moench. “But critical ones are ones that can be serious concerns. Some examples would be if you have pests or animals or insects in the kitchen or cafeteria area, or if you’re keeping the food either too hot or too cold. These kinds of things could lead to food-borne illnesses or cause health concerns.”
“It’s a health risk,” said Pauliina Siniauer, another co-author. “Critical violations can get kids sick. We found that kids were vomiting and … getting sick from the food.”
The report also found that the schools with the most violations were those that served New York’s poorest communities.
One school, P.S. 398 in Brooklyn, was found to have roaches and 600 fresh droppings from mice in the kitchen and the cafeteria where students ate. At another school, five second-grade students reportedly fell ill after eating food from the cafeteria.
Parents of students at Brooklyn’s P.S. 770 said that the school didn’t tell them after a health inspection last year discovered mouse droppings and roaches in the cafeteria and kitchen.
“Children can get disease from being around that,” said mom-of-two Michelle Machado. “This is the first time I’m hearing this. Would the school be honest and tell me about this? I don’t think so.”
The city’s Education Department issued a statement after the report was released, citing a 98 percent pass rate for school cafeterias. The standard for passing, said spokesman Michael Aciman, is roughly equivalent to a B restaurant rating in the city.
““Nothing is more important than the health and wellbeing of students and staff, and we work closely with the Department of Health to immediately investigate and address any violation,” said the department. “In 2017, approximately 98 percent of schools passed their inspections.”
While many public schools in the city are struggling with health violations, other NYC public schools are working to provide healthy, plant-based and whole food options for students.
Flushing, Queens’ P.S. 244 is one of the city’s highest-performing elementary schools, and serves an all-vegetarian menu in its cafeteria. Principal Robert Groff said he saw a link between healthy food served in school lunches and high performance from students.
“It’s not about diet,” said Groff, “but about something broader.”
After making the switch to a meatless cafeteria, P.S. 244 reported improvement in student’s test scores, attendance, and energy. “We believe that [students] achieve better when they have healthier food choices and are educated about those food choices,” said Groff.
According to Groff, after a single semester with an all-veg cafeteria, the number of P.S. 244 students who were obese or overweight dropped by 2%.
P.S. 343 in lower Manhattan also opted for a vegetarian lunch menu starting in 2013.
“We decided to implement the vegetarian menu because of the health benefits of a diet including more legumes, vegetables and whole grains and our concerns about the environmental impact of meat production,” said the school’s principal, Maggie Siena.
After the recent report on NYC public school cafeteria health violations, parents might want to consider packing a lunch for their children. When you make your own lunch, you can choose which ingredients are going into your child’s food, allowing you to provide healthier options.
For some ideas, here’s a list of some healthy ingredients to pack in your child’s lunchbox. Try this Avocado Pumpkin Panini with Caramelized Onions or this ‘Tuna’ Salad on Toast for some unique veggie sandwich options!
Still hungry for more lunch ideas like Nutritious Plant-Based Meals Every Kid Will Love? Try downloading the Food Monster App. The app is available for both Android and iPhone, and can also be found on Instagram and Facebook. The app has more than 10,000 plant-based, allergy-friendly recipes, and subscribers gain access to new recipes every day. Check it out!
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