By Elizabeth F. McNamara
Cafeterias at Cole Middle School and Meadowbrook Farms Elementary both required repeated visits from the state Dept. of Health this fall after sightings of rodent droppings at both cafeterias and an issue with garbage disposal at Meadowbrook.
The repeated visits prompted a letter to Supt. Victor Mercurio dated Oct. 22 from Lillian Berard, a DOH food supervisor, in which she said despite speaking with officials in charge at each school during three visits, “there hasn’t been any progress noted in efforts of eliminating this rodent problem.”
Berard wrote that normally there would be a “pre-hearing conference” at DOH but she was alerting Mercurio in hopes he could resolve the issues first.
The letter, and details of the inspections, surfaced when Channel 12 highlighted the Cole reports in a larger story Dec. 9 about school cafeteria inspections.
However, Mercurio said he and the Cole and Meadowbrook principals never received the letter from Berard, that he’d only learned of the letter from Channel 12. According to a copy of the Oct. 22 letter, it was sent to 125 Main Street (Town Hall), which is where his office is.
“I was more surprised with getting the letter from a reporter, and not from the source,” he said in an interview last week. “At no time was any food compromised,” he said. “The cleanliness and maintenance at district cafeterias are among the best I’ve seen in 30 years in education.”
District food service is provided by Aramark, which has had the contract for more than 10 years. Mercurio called Aramark a “wonderful” partner and said school officials were in regular contact with Aramark staff.
The company did not respond to questions about the specific issues at Cole and Meadowbrook but instead issued this statement:
Nothing is more important to us than food safety and the customer experience we deliver. Our food safety processes and procedures are industry leading, if issues are raised we work to fix them quickly. We maintain rigid standard operating procedures for the entire flow of food production. This includes providing an environment that protects the safety and integrity of food from its delivery, throughout its storage, preparation, transport, and ultimately, to the point of service to the customer. Our food service staff is also engaged in an ongoing learning environment that includes the latest culinary trends as well and food safety practices.
DOH media relations officer Joseph Wendelken said despite the need for multiple inspections this fall, there was no cause for concern with the two cafeterias.
“There were some issues that need to be addressed but the school leadership was extremely prompt and through in addressing them and we don’t have any health or safety concerns when it comes to food preparation at the school,” he said Friday.
With regard to Berard’s letter, Wendelken said, “At the time that the letters were sent, there were some issues that needed to be addressed. The tone of the letter reflects that. However, since then, school leadership has been very thorough and very proactive.”
EGSD Building Official Bob Wilmarth said a pest control company inspects each school “at least monthly, usually twice per month, and then as needed to remedy individual situations.” Mercurio said the rodent problem was mice.
A follow-up letter from Berard dated Dec. 4 to Greg Booth, the director of finance, administration and operations for the district, apologized “for any inconvenience caused in not receiving ‘the letter’ dated October 22, 2019.”
She added that inspections chief Catherine Feeney had told Channel 12 “the schools had been proactive and responsive,” which she said had not been included in the Channel 12 story.
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