Roaches, Flies and Mice: Nearly Half of NYC Public School Cafeterias Cited for Critical Violations, Report Finds

(AP Photo/Seth Perlman) AP Photo/Seth Perlman

What to Know

  • Nearly half of all New York City school cafeterias were cited for at least one critical violation last year, according to a report

  • Health inspectors discovered an average of two violations per school visit

  • The report comes after the city started offering free meals to all 1.1 million students in its school system in September

Nearly half of all New York City school cafeterias inspected last year were cited for at least one critical violation for issues that could lead to foodborne illnesses, according to a recently released report.

Of the 1,150 critical violations found at nearly 700 cafeterias, about half of those inspected by health officials in 2017, most indicated evidence of mice, rats, roaches, flies and other insects in areas where food is prepared and eaten, according to the investigation by NYCity News Service, a CUNY University student-powered news service that provides special reports and feeds stories to news organizations.

NYCity News Service based its reporting on data obtained by the Department of Health under the Freedom of Information Act.

The report highlighted some troublesome findings, including at one Brooklyn school where live roaches and nearly 600 fresh mice droppings were discovered by a health inspector.

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At another, five second-graders were sickened after eating a cafeteria lunch. A health inspector who visited the school days later found dirty equipment and poor protection for how food was laid out, the report said. In one case in Queens, 1,500 flies were found at a middle school in Ozone Park.

For information on the specific schools identified in the report, click here.

U.S. Department of Agriculture regulations require local health officials to inspect school cafeterias twice every school year. About 1,400 city school cafeterias were inspected at least once, with some cafeterias serving more than one school, according to the report.

Local food inspectors look for evidence of rodents or insects and check equipment to make sure food is stored in the appropriate temperatures. They also review how the food is handled.

Although the city's public school system boasts more than 1 million students, just 15 health inspectors are assigned at any given time to visit schools without warning and examine their kitchens. According to the investigation, the city’s Department of Health says the number of inspectors is “sufficient to do the job.”

The NYCity News Service report comes about three months after the city started offering free meals to all students.

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The city’s "Free Lunch for All" program is paid for through a federal program and provides free lunches in the nation’s highest-poverty schools. The NYCity News Service report revealed that four dozen school cafeterias with the worst violation records were serving the city’s poorest students.

In a statement provided to News 4, Michael Aciman, spokesperson for the city's Department of Education, said "all schools must provide students with safe, clean cafeterias and we ensure that they meet all federal and state requirements."

Aciman said that the city's Department of Education works closely with health officials to "immediately investigate and address any violation," adding that in 2016, 97 percent of schools passed their inspections.

In September, Gov. Cuomo signed legislation requiring the city Department of Education to publicly post the result of school cafeteria and kitchen inspections online for transparency.

NYCity News Service said the information it received from the health department's full reports gave more specifics about the severity of the violations.