Federal Way schools flunk food safety inspections

Ratings of “unsatisfactory” were given to seven Federal Way school cafeterias and two high school student stores after the last round of inspections by the King County Health Department, including three of the district’s newest schools.

All seven schools and the student stores received “red critical” violations for conditions that contribute to the “highest risk of causing food borne disease.” The violations range from improper hand washing facilities to problems with measuring food temperature. A King County environmental health inspector said that all violations at Federal Way are “very common.”

In most cases, county inspectors work with eateries to solve the violations before the inspector leaves. Eateries’ food permits are suspended if they rack up more than 90 points worth of violations. None of the Federal Way school cafeterias exceeded 15 points worth of violations.

“Whenever possible, red critical violations are corrected before leaving,” environmental inspector Phil Wyman said. “There are exceptions, such as workers not having current food worker cards. We take time to ensure that the operator understands the correct way to do things.”

The district provided an explanation for each violation in response to questions about the “unsatisfactory” ratings. Food Services Director Mary Asplund was unavailable for comment because she is on medical leave.

“If an employee has not followed the proper procedure, they are re-instructed in the proper process,” district spokeswoman Diane Turner said in a written response to questions about what the district does to fix “unsatisfactory” ratings. “We follow up in all cases to make sure the unsatisfactory items are resolved.”

Turner noted that several of the violations were due to conflicting opinions between a King County inspector and a temporary inspector from another county who conducted inspections in 2010.

Health departments are required to inspect school cafeterias twice per year under federal guidelines; the most recent inspections occurred between September and November of 2010. Inspections are unannounced.

The schools that received “unsatisfactory” ratings were: Brigadoon Elementary, Sherwood Forest Elementary, Silver Lake Elementary, Panther Lake Elementary, Valhalla Elementary, Woodmont Elementary and Lakota Middle School. The student stores are at Todd Beamer and Decatur high schools.

District estimates place the number of students eating at these schools from 149 at the low end at Brigadoon, to almost 500 at Lakota.

Warm chicken nuggets, unwashed fruit

At Woodmont Elementary, a batch of chicken nuggets delivered from the district’s central kitchen were at 50 degrees, which is considered in the “danger zone” of between 40 and 140 degrees — a favorable climate for harmful bacteria.

“These nuggets were not served,” Turner said.

Turner said that the temperature of all foods delivered from the central kitchen are measured before cooking. Because of the Woodmont violation, she said, the district now uses more ice when transporting food to schools.

At Silver Lake Elementary, pears were served out of the box in which they were shipped. Turner said that a previous inspector had said that this practice was OK, but the temporary replacement deemed otherwise. From now on, she said, workers will wash all fruit.

Sherwood Forest received a violation for not having thermometers available to measure the temperature of food. Turner said this was due to a thermometer with a low battery being left out on a desk — even though it was not being used because of the low battery — when it should have been placed elsewhere. Turner said district policy is to have two thermometers in each kitchen.

Also, the school district’s main kitchen received a “satisfactory” grade — given to eateries that have no violations, or only very low level ones — but received five points for “ware washing facilities not properly installed, maintained or used; test strips not available.” This was due to chemical test strips not being available for a washing machine; the machine’s hot water temperature was also not hot enough. Turner said that the inspection was done while the machine was warming up, and that the test strips were nearby.

Illahee Middle School was also rated “satisfactory,” but received three points for “garbage not properly disposed, facilities not maintained.” Turner said that garbage removal is the responsibility of the janitor, and the problem was being worked on. Sequoyah Middle School got five points and a “satisfactory” for “wiping cloths improperly used.”

Hand washing violation common

A majority of the “unsatisfactory” ratings resulted from violations related to hand washing.

Both Valhalla and Panther Lake elementary schools — the two newest — received this violation, according to information compiled by Turner, because each school uses an “on demand” hot water system. That type of system does not draw water from a hot water tank, and water is heated as needed. Turner said that cold water must be expelled from pipes before the hot water kicks in; the district installed signs above cafeteria sinks that instruct workers to wait to wash their hands until the water is warm. Because the hot water was too slow, the cafeterias received violations.

“There is no health department rule that indicates the hot water has to immediately flow from the pipes,” Turner said.

Turner said that Brigadoon Elementary received the hand washing violation because the kitchen’s water took five minutes to reach 100 degrees. Brigadoon was inspected on Nov. 8; Turner said a new water heater will be installed soon.

Lakota, the district’s newest middle school, received a violation for “hands not washed as required.” Turner said an inspector observed staff not washing their hands after changing gloves.

Student stores not traditional eateries

The student stores at Decatur and Todd Beamer are not managed by the district’s standard food services division. Turner said that each school’s store is managed by the Associated Student Body chapter and staffed by students.

In the case of Todd Beamer, the store was serving slush drinks, but proper hand washing facilities were unavailable.

Turner said the Decatur store serves items like pizza, bread sticks, grilled cheese, quesadillas, Hot Pockets, burritos, non-perishable soup and cookies. The violation was for “toxic substances improperly identified, stored and used, food and non-food contact surfaces not properly used and constructed, not cleanable.”

The latter part of the violation was because of the surface that cookies are served on, which will be replaced. The inspector found cleaning products underneath a sink, which were disposed of immediately.

The Decatur store has past violations, too. During a February 2010 inspection, the store was found to be holding food at improper temperatures; it received the same violation on Nov. 4, 2009. During an April 2009 inspection, it was cited for not having proper thermometers available. The February 2010 violation, Turner said, was for not having the right temperature gauges for the pizza oven and the refrigerator.

“Whenever a (health department) report shows a deficiency, we fix it,” said Nancy Hawkins, director of career and education technology, which oversees the stores. She noted that the costs to fix problems are paid by her department or the school building. “If the problem were indeed serious or in danger of causing a significant problem, the student store would be shut down.”

Inspections taken seriously

Tom Ogg is the supervisor of food and nutrition at the Kent School District. His district takes food safety standards so seriously that it contracts with a private company that checks its kitchens on a monthly basis. (Ogg used to work in Seattle, where this was not done.)

The company checks appearance, chemical handling and “critical control points.”

“Schools take (inspections) very seriously because we’re dealing with such a large section of the public,” Ogg said.

Still, seven out of Kent’s roughly 40 schools got “unsatisfactory” ratings. Kent has roughly 26,000 students compared to Federal Way’s 22,000. Ogg said schools have to pay close attention to food safety because they serve so many students, and so much food is passing through various stages of cooking and storage.

“Schools take extra steps that most don’t,” he said. “We’ll err on the side of caution with food procedures to be safe.”

Turner said that the health and safety of students is “really important to us.” She said the district works closely with King County to pass muster.

“The health department goes over any unsatisfactory times with our staff,” she said. “We take King County Health Department’s inspections very seriously and take prompt action when an issue is raised by an inspector.”

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