High School cafeteria kitchen reopens, others still closed

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UPDATE — Facilities Director Dean Dillingham, standing, addresses the SAD 17 Board of Directors, including Director David Dunn, at its May 21 meeting to update to board on work to clean several kitchens in the Oxford Hills Comprehensive High School that were shut down in early May due to the presence of mice.

PARIS — State inspectors ok’d the opening of the Oxford Hills Comprehensive High School cafeteria kitchen last week, but two other classroom kitchens remain closed because cleanup has not been completed.

State inspectors made the final inspection of the high school cafeteria kitchen approving its opening on May 30, almost four weeks after it and kitchens in the culinary arts and diversified occupations classrooms were shut down because of “excessive” presence of mice.

“We’re back to normal. Everything is going great,” said Food Service Director Jodi Truman whose staff had been preparing and transporting an alternative lunch and breakfast menu, including sandwiches, from the Oxford Hills Middle School since the shutdown. “The kids are happy they have more (food) choices. They were getting a little tired of having sandwiches.”

An IHH (Imminent Hazard Finding) was filed on May 4 by a health inspector for the Department of Health and Human Services after evidence of mice in the high school cafeteria kitchen, the Culinary Arts kitchen and the Diversified Occupations kitchen was found by an inspector for the Health Inspection Program.

The kitchens were immediately shut down and school officials were told that no food service or preparation would be allowed and no food from the storage area could be used. Evaluation of canned foods and other foods in the storage area were investigated at a later date because of the potential for infection. An unknown amount of food was discarded.

While the main cafeteria is now re-opened, students in the technical school programs remain without their main source of learning – a kitchen.

The Culinary Arts program is designed to prepare students for a career in the hospitality profession. Students learn concepts in hospitality, restaurant management, and food preparation and operate a restaurant and multi-faceted food service establishment in their kitchen.

The Diversified Occupations program is designed for students who have special learning needs and benefit from hands-on learning. In that program, job skills ranging from woodworking to food preparation, are provided through a variety of learning centers including the Acorn Café, a snack bar where food preparation, service and sales skills are taught.

Oxford Hills Technical School Director Shawn Lambert told the Advertiser Democrat that cleanup on the Culinary Arts and Diversified kitchens are not expected to be completed until this summer.

“The priority was on the cafeteria because of the number of students impacted by that being closed,” he said of the cleanup emphasis on the main cafeteria that feeds hundreds of students each day.
Lambert said the biggest issue with the classroom kitchen shutdowns has been students “trying to learn about their field without access to a kitchen.”  Because of the lack of kitchen facilities, the Culinary Arts staff has been taking the students out of the building on field trips to restaurants, trade shows and markets to enhance the students’ learning.
What happened?

The SAD 17 Board of Directors were initially told of the mice issue at the May 7 board meeting. The problem was described at that point as a single dead mouse and “evidence” of mice in the three areas.

The special investigation by the state of the three kitchen areas was apparently prompted by an inspection on May 3 of the Culinary Arts program, located in another wing of the building from the main cafeteria. An inspector found “numerous” droppings in the cage equipment storage area and in the dry goods storage area, according to the May 4 State of Maine Health Inspection report.

According to that report and others obtained by the Advertiser Democrat, Culinary Arts instructors had been catching mice in mechanical traps since around April 11. Eight or more mice had been caught since that time.

The Inspection Report stated that one staff member said there is a “problem in the entire school and that children were catching mice and releasing them outside.”

There was no evidence provided in the report to back up that staff member’s assertion.

What was found

According to State of Maine Inspection reports dated May 4, 7, and 16, the presence of mice ranges from one trapped mouse to multiple mice.

Most officials agree now that at least eight mouse have been trapped in the past few weeks and multiple evidence of mice existed in the three areas.

The first mouse was found in a trap during a May 7 special investigation of the high school cafeteria kitchen.

Additionally, mouse droppings were found on food shelving’s, single use items and canned food. The inspector noted that there is a “potential” for contamination because of this finding.

The district was cited for “not routinely inspecting premises for evidence of pests.”

“The physical facilities are in disrepair” (specifically the inspector noted that a pipe leading from the storage area to the kitchen was not sealed and the “physical facilities are not clean.” The inspector stated the kitchen and storage area need to be cleaned by a commercial master applicator licensed professional cleaning company.

Arrangements had to be made to open the transfer station on a day it is normally closed in order to safely dispose of potentially contaminated food.

Of the 54 areas of compliance, the cafeteria kitchen was found to be out of compliance three times, two of which were either corrected during the on-site visit or were considered a repeat offense. The two included presence of insects, rodents or animal and the physical facilities not maintained and clean. The kitchen was found out of compliance with “food in good condition, safe and unadulterated.”

Following the May 4 inspection of the Culinary Arts kitchen, a follow-up inspection revealed the food in the Culinary Arts section was found to be “adulterated, not safe or honestly preserved” after mouse droppings were found on food storage shelving leading to the potential for food contamination.

The doors leading to the loading docks were found open by inspectors, weather stripping did not cover the bottom of the outside door and the exterior half doors had large gaps at the bottom, according to the inspection report.

Inspectors said all of the violations could lead to the possibility of rodents getting in. Additionally, inspectors said a compost barrel needed to be moved further from the building and ceiling tiles were missing in the laundry area. The facilities were not clean.

Further, the inspector noted mouse droppings found in the cage, food storage area and under the cook line, on food shelves and on, or inside, equipment. Inspectors said the classroom, kitchen and storage area and laundry area must be cleaned by a professionals company holding a Commercial Master Applicator license.

On May 8, inspectors returned to help the school personnel determine disposal and salvage of single use items and canned goods.

On May 16, inspectors returned to see the status of the three areas and if they were ready to transition to a professional company to conduct a cleaning.

At that time, inspectors said the cafeteria kitchen and storage area had been emptied, no new evidence of mice were found, and that area was ready to transition to the professional cleaning company stage, which was completed around May 25.

Work remained to be done in the Culinary Arts kitchen and was not ready to transition. The Diversified Occupation kitchen remained “unchanged” and was not ready to transition to the professional cleaning company.

Officials react

The district’s Integrated Pest Management Program requires that a contractor inspect the kitchens once a month and other areas quarterly, but Facilities Director Dean Dillingham and others believe communication may not always been as good as it should have been.

“We’ve learned from this,“ Dillingham told the SAD 17 Board of Directors.

Food Service Director Jodi Truman told the directors at their May 21 meeting that her staff is stringent in cleanliness. Not one day goes by when  the kitchen is closed for the day without a thorough cleaning, she said.

School Superintendent Rick Colpitts said there are clearly issues that could have prevented some of the problems, such as keeping the door between the loading dock and the Culinary Arts kitchen closed.

Trigger questioned

Colpitts has also asked the state to clarify what policy exists to order the kitchen shutdown.

“What is the trigger to have the state come in and close down the kitchen?” he asked at the May 21 board meeting. “Frankly, the fact that they caught one mouse is not a trigger. They have the right to close us down, but what is the policy that triggers it?”

According to information from Emily Spencer, spokesperson for the Department of Health and Human Services, each pest infestation case is individual and requires inspector observations.

Under state policy, inspectors are instructed, “If food cannot be prepared and served safely or a room is infested and not fit for lodging, issue an IHH and close all or part of the establishment.“

According to the policy regarding mice or rats, if there is evidence such as feces damage, tracks, nesting, odor or other evidence in the food prep, dining or food/equipment storage areas, an IHH would be issued and the room or area would be closed.

If minor amounts of feces are seen and no live or dead rodents found and no activity is noted in the kitchen, food/equipment storage areas and the establishment can safely prepare and serve food, no IHH would be issued.

Maine School Kitchen Inspection Policy for the 2017-2018 school year calls for each public school kitchen to have a certified food protection manager on staff and that food service personnel participate in a food handlers course called, ”Serving It Safe.”

The manager must pass an exam and receive a certificate which is valid for five years. All Maine schools must also have a Hazard Analysis Critical Control Plan in place. SAD 17 meets those criteria.

Although the USDA‘s Child Nutrition and WIC Re-authorization Act of 2004 mandate two school kitchen inspections must be conducted annually at Maine public school kitchens, Lisa Silva, program manger for Maine’s Health Inspection Program said in a a letter to the Department of Education and School Food Service Directors  that one inspection per year is sufficient because  Maine schools perform “very well“ during inspections with few, if any violations, each year.

“The failure rate for school inspections is very low,” Silva said in the letter. There were no failed inspections for 2016-2017 and only one school failed in each of the school years 2015-2016 and 2014-2015, she said.

SAD 17 school officials say they have learned from the mice incident and that it is clear “teaching” needs to be done to avoid future problems.

It has also been recommended that the district’s pest control company increase its inspections.

ldixon@sunmediagroup.net