PHOENIX (KSAZ) - Hundreds of thousands of Arizona students rely on schools to provide food every school day, and with more than half of all students in the state on free or reduced lunch programs, the need for quality is important.
But do you know how clean your kid's school cafeteria is? There are 58 school districts and more than 700 schools in the county, which adds up to around 700,000 kids going to and from the classroom every school day.
Maricopa County issues grades to all school cafeterias, but who's checking to make sure those school cafeteria's are getting high marks for cleanliness?
"We license food service establishments of all kind. That includes retail, full service, fast food, as well as cafeterias, all food services you can typically think of," said Robert Stratman, Managing Supervisor for the Maricopa County Environmental Services. He helps lead the division responsible for making sure food handling at almost every level is safe.
"When we do any kind of food inspection, especially when it's open food service such as a school, we're going to be open food handling, assembly, service of food, we're going to do an assessment of what's going on at the time, because depending on when we're there, certain things may or may not be happening," said Stratman.
Environmental Services developed a letter grading system for the cafeterias to help parents and the public better identify potential problems, and inspections are random.
"They are unannounced," said Stratman. "In essence to the operator, they can possibly come as a surprise. They are typically spaced out throughout the year."
What they're looking for runs the gamut from how cafeteria food is handled, prepared and stored, to how the employees hygiene is factored in.
"We want to look at what's more critical, in terms of what's going to impact public health more than others," said Stratman. "The more critical items are going to be handwashing and hygiene, your cooking temperatures, if they are cooking, your food holding temperatures, so like a hot line or a cold line if food is sitting there."
FOX 10 Phoenix reached out to multiple school districts requesting to go along with the county, but were turned down. Environmental Services does, however, document some of their inspections with photos
Some parents don't really think about it.
"My son is happy in the school," said one parent. "He has no problem, we have no problem."
While others were a little surprised to hear that their child's school didn't get all As.
"I hope it's clean in there," said another parent. "When you say it got a C rating, does that mean that the food is clean?"
Ratings are based on primary violations - things directly related to public health like cross-contamination or food temperature, and primary foundation violations, like a lack of paper towels or a dirty floor.
Every inspection is a snapshot in time
___: "Maybe they're having an off day, maybe they're understaffed, and so at that moment in time stuff started breaking down, so it's not indicitive of their overall track record or the overall compliance"
A school that receives a low mark has the opportunity to fix it right then and there or in a short time after.
Many schools we found that received a low letter grade have come back to earn an 'a' afterwards
___: I always enocurage the public if they see osmtehing when it comes to a letter grade dig a little bit deeper and look at that inspection and violations but take a look at the history of hte establishment
All of this information is available in a serachable database on maricopa county's website. Parents can type in the name of a school and see the history of the cafeteria's violations...If any
Maricopa County Food Inspections