FOX23 Investigates: School Cafeteria Inspections

Watch Michelle Linn’s full investigation here

FOX23 Investigates: School Food Inspections

TULSA, Okla. — School cafeterias are a staple of everyday student life -- which makes their cleanliness and safety key to student health.

Tulsa Public Schools serves meals to about 28,000 students each day -- about 50,000 total meals.

FOX23 dug through Tulsa Public Schools Health Department inspection reports and went with Tulsa Health Department Food Protection Services Manager Debrena Hilton to inspect the kitchen at East Central High School.

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FOX23's Michelle Linn follows along as the Tulsa Health Department's Debrena Hilton inspects East Central High School's cafeteria.
FOX23's Michelle Linn follows along as the Tulsa Health Department's Debrena Hilton inspects East Central High School's cafeteria. (FOX23)

The Tulsa Health Department has 18 inspectors in Tulsa County who do at least two routine unannounced inspections during each school year.

Inspectors check to make sure all foods come from approved sources and are stored at safe temperatures, all equipment is clean and in good condition, each kitchen has at least one certified manager, and employees are handling food in a safe, hygienic manner.

From Jan. 1, 2018 through Aug. 31, 2019 the department issued 31 warnings to 15 Tulsa Public School District sites.

Three elementary schools -- Bell, Council Oak, and Hawthorne had repeated mice/rodent violations. The same violations were found at the district’s off-site bakery Ross Bake Center, three middle or junior high schools, and four high schools.

The most common violation among elementary schools is the cleanliness of food and non-food surfaces.

The most common violation among middle and high schools was floors, walls, and ceilings not in good repair.

The Tulsa Public Schools Director of Child Nutrition Steve Dyer told FOX23 the violations happened before he was in his role.

“I’m really sorry to hear this information but I do know that we have systems in place to correct it and address any shortcomings as quickly as possible and to make it the healthiest safest cleanest environment possible," Dyer says.

Michelle Linn asked Tulsa Public Schools about its procedures for food inspections.

• Q: How does the district go about making sure schools are in compliance?
A: The district takes great pride in maintaining safe and clean kitchens through several oversight processes. Every kitchen manager is a Certified Food Service Manager through the Tulsa City-County Health Department where they are required to pass an examination regarding health and safety standards. They also receive routine trainings throughout the school year. Every kitchen goes through several voluntary audits by the kitchen manager, area manager, and our field training manager to ensure our high standards are met. All kitchens are also walked by members of the child nutrition leadership team weekly to ensure they continue the great work of maintaining clean kitchens.
• Q: How does the district use the bi-annual THD inspections?
A: The kitchens, school administration, and child nutrition leadership team are made aware of a school’s inspection after its completion. We often discover that the findings from the THD inspections are supportive of the clean and safe environment we expect. Should there be any corrections that need to be made, changes are put into place immediately to ensure compliance and continued excellence.
• Q: Which TPS schools are served by a central kitchen?
A: We operate a central bakery that serves all the school sites with freshly made baked goods like breadsticks and cinnamon rolls. We are very proud to be able to serve many meals made from scratch in our kitchens with no central kitchen. There are a small handful of sites that do receive freshly prepared meals from a satellite kitchen nearby with a delivery right before meal service.

We were able to get this school year’s inspections and found 8 schools had violation for mice or insects. Hawthorne was the only school to show a repeat of the violations.