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Filthy NYC School Cafeterias Rife With Rodents, Bugs

Nearly 700 cafeterias had "critical" health violations last year, a NYCity News Service investigation found.

New York City's public school cafeterias are crawling with flies, rats and other gross conditions that could sicken students, a new investigation has found. Health inspectors found "critical" health violations — the kind that may cause foodborne illness — in nearly 700 school cafeterias last year, according to the NYCity News Service report.

Five students at the CUNY Graduate School of Journalism — Pauliina Siniauer, Mallory Moench, Rahima Nasa, Jeremy Ibarra and Lizeth Beltran — examined 2017 health inspection records for 1,400 school cafeterias. They found reports of mouse droppings, roaches, as many as 1,500 flies in one dining area and dirty equipment in kitchens that prepare meals for thousands of students every day.

A fifth of all school health violations — 1,150 — were critical, meaning they pose a risk of foodborne illness. Half of those showed evidence of rodents and bugs in areas where food is prepared or eaten, the report says.

Poor students of color were more likely to be served food from tainted kitchens, the students found. The four dozen schools that performed worst on health inspections "largely serve some of the city's poorest students," who are mostly from ethnic minority groups, the story says.

"The school lunch slogan is 'feed your mind,' and I feel like if anything, we're not feeding our minds," Samara Henry, a senior at the Urban Assembly Bronx Academy of Letters, told NYCity News Service. "It's a bunch of crap that is actually going into our system which makes us sick at the end of the day."

The violations came amid the city's effort to serve all students free lunch even as its cafeterias are understaffed. City officials have not followed through on plans to hire 2,000 more cafeteria workers since launching the universal lunch program last year, Shaun D. Francois, the head of the labor union representing cafeteria workers, told NYCity News Service

Additionally, the Department of Health has just 15 inspectors to examine 1,400 cafeterias serving 1.1 million students — though the department says that number is enough.

Despite the problems, 97 percent of schools passed their inspections in 2016, and those with violations "immediately addressed" them, Department of Health officials told NYCity News Service.

"We are committed to working with the Department of Education to ensure all students are provided with a safe and clean environment in our city's schools," the department told the students in a statement. "We will continue to hold school cafeterias to rigorous safety standards."

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