Mayor Bill de Blasio vowed to hold school cafeterias to a “very high standard” following a NYCity News Service investigation revealing that critical violations were found at nearly half of lunchrooms in 2017.
De Blasio told WNYC’s Brian Lehrer he hadn’t seen the News Service story, which also reported that more than half of the 1,150 critical violations logged last year detailed evidence of mice, rats, roaches and other insects in food preparation and consumption areas.
“It does not make me happy if our cafeterias are not being kept to a high standard,” the mayor said, noting that his two children attended public schools when they were younger.
He added: “We’re going to hold cafeterias to a very high standard and I will certainly look into what’s brought up in that report and make sure we’re going to do something bigger to address it.”
The mayor’s comments came two days after the launch of the News Service’s story, which included an interactive map offering school-by-school accounts of critical violations – the kind of conditions that could lead to foodborne illness.
The investigation, whose findings were cited in numerous media accounts this week, also noted the four dozen schools with the worst inspections records in 2017 largely serve some of the city’s poorest students.
City Department of Health and Department of Education officials emphasized that 97 percent of school cafeterias passed inspection, and De Blasio on Friday said it was his understanding that most violations “tend to be fixed immediately.” Yet under the point system used by Health Department inspectors, schools could still pass after being given multiple violations.
Educations officials pointed out that inspection records can be found online, thanks to a law signed last year by Gov. Cuomo. Still, those records aren’t as extensive as the inspection reports obtained by the News Service under a freedom of information law request.
Critics say that more workers are needed to staff school cafeterias, especially since the city began offering free lunch to all 1.1 million students in September 2017.
“I care a lot about what happens in our cafeterias,” De Blasio told Lehrer. “I care obviously about the health of our kids.”
(Listen below to de Blasio and Lehrer discussing the NYCity News Service cafeteria report, beginning at 29:20)