Join the discussion.

Inklings News

Join the discussion.

Inklings News

Join the discussion.

Inklings News

Misleading News Report Flunks Staples Cafeteria

Noel Berry
The Staples kitchen has failed their inspection 14 times in the last five years alone.

The news story could not have been more damning.

“In Westport, inspectors flunked the [school] cafeterias 14 times,” read the Stamford Advocate article. “Pass/Fail: Schools cafeteria’s report card.”

And it’s true: Westport schools’ kitchens failed 14 times in a five year span. But that doesn’t tell the whole story, according to Mark Cooper, Director of Health for the Westport Weston Health District. In fact, according to Cooper, the real problem lies in the state’s grading system, which blows relatively minor issues out of proportion.

“It all depends on the nature of what’s going on in the kitchen, which that raw score doesn’t give you. It may have in fact gotten those scores, but it doesn’t mean there’s any true public health risk,” said Cooper.

Cooper actually described The Advocate’s article as “sensationalized.”

And in fact, before hearing that the Director of Health considers the kitchen clean, Staples students were alarmed by the cafeteria’s abysmal scores.

“I feel more compelled to bring my own food now,” said Kelly Chang ’13. When she found out that Cooper said Staples is not a health risk, she said, “It’s relieving, but I’m still cautious.”

Sean Driscoll ’15 was also originally worried about the cleanliness of the Staples kitchen. “It has me worried that I could be eating something that’s not safe and that’s failed an inspection,” said Driscoll. Hearing Cooper’s comments, Driscoll said he felt reassured.

According to the Stamford Advocate’s database of school cafeteria health inspection scores, compiled from a Hearst Connecticut Newspaper’s analysis of 2,248 public school cafeteria inspections, the Staples kitchen failed four of six routine health inspections with scores of 91, 89, 89, and 82 from Feb. 15, 2011 to May 10, 2012.

There are two ways to fail a health inspection in Connecticut, according to Cooper, and both can be somewhat misleading: either the kitchen gets a total score lower than 80 out of 100, or the kitchen gets at least one four-point demerit. In those four recent failed health inspections, Cooper said, the failure was due to four-point demerits, not because the kitchen got a total score of less than 80.

On Oct. 23, 2012, for example, the Staples kitchen failed its only routine inspection since the Hearst analysis. The kitchen failed because of a single four-point demerit: the temperature of cold foods should be at 45 degrees or below, but the health inspector found cheese at 50 degrees and peas at 53 degrees. Still, the Staples kitchen got a total score of 90.

Cooper doesn’t consider a score of 90 a failure. “A four-point demerit means you have something serious that needs to be fixed but doesn’t necessarily mean…anybody’s health is at risk,” he said.

He pointed out the nuances in inspections that the scores alone do not show. As he said, “You can have a score of 99 and be eating in a very unsafe place or be eating in a place with a score of 81, and it could be a lot safer.”

The reporter, Maggie Gordon, also spoke in a telephone interview about the nuances in the scores, though in a more negative light. According to her, the average score for Westport Public Schools over that five-year period was 96.88 out of 100, though the average score for Staples specifically was slightly lower at 94.5. “You can have a score that sounds like ‘Oh, wow, that’s a great score. I’d love to get that on a math test.’ But it doesn’t necessarily mean that everything is in ship shape,” said Gordon.

Yet, Cooper said, “Nothing is ever perfect. The day you open is probably the best day you’re going to have in terms of having your health inspection.”

Cooper went on to call Gordon’s article “sensationalized,” to which Gordon responded, “I can see why he’d say that. It’s not true. If you look through the data, some of these things that I’ve found in here were a little bit mind-blowing.”

Gordon also added that “it’s not my personal opinion or my personal findings. It’s experts saying that. Did I speak to health experts that said these things were health concerns? Yes. Did I, Maggie Gordon, say they were health concerns? No, because I’m not qualified to make that assertion.”

Another disagreement between Cooper and Gordon was how students and parents were informed.

Gordon said, “I believe people do have the right to know.” She quoted a parent in her article who compared health inspection failures to chicken pox, arguing that parents are informed about chicken pox when it’s not always a serious issue because for some, it might be an issue.

Cooper dismissed the need to inform students of a failed health inspection when there is no threat to public health. “Are we really going to tell students that their tomato is at 48 degrees? Would they pay attention to us?” he asked.

“If there was a serious threat of any kind, everybody would know,” he added.

Students can rest assured. On Nov. 28, 2012, in the follow-up inspection to the Oct. 23 failed inspection, the Staples kitchen got a 100, a perfect score, showing what Cooper called “a process of continued improvement.”

Leave a Comment
More to Discover
About the Contributors
Bailey Ethier
Bailey Ethier, Editor-in-Chief
Editor-in-Chief Bailey Ethier ’15 has self-described himself in one word as “Texan.” Growing up in Texas, Ethier dreamed of being a professional athlete. Soon enough, however, he realized he didn’t have the athletic ability to do so, and turned to the next best thing, in his opinion: journalism. When he moved to Westport before ninth grade, he decided to join Inklings given the fact that he enjoyed a seventh grade project on sports broadcasting. As a sophomore, Ethier was a Web Opinions Editor, and was then a News Editor as a junior. He is ready to lead Inklings as Editor-in-Chief this year, and is fully committed to the paper. “I absolutely love this paper,” Ethier said. Deeply committed to journalism and hoping to pursue it in the future, Ethier is constantly trying to improve his journalistic skills. This summer, he attended a journalism program at Columbia University in New York City. He then headed to Texas for his eighth year at Camp Champions summer camp in Marble Falls, Texas, completing a three year senior camper program. During his senior camper program, he learned many valuable lessons, including how to lead by example. He hopes to carry his leadership at camp to Inklings this coming year. Ultimately, Ethier hopes to accomplish much during his final year on Inklings. “When people think of highly acclaimed newspapers, I want them to think of The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal and Inklings.”
Ben Goldschlager
Ben Goldschlager, Web News Editor

Ben Goldschlager ’14 is an involved member of the Staples and Westport communities. He’s the president of the Model UN and Artists’ Club, the web news editor for Inklings and is involved in Debate Team, Junior States of America and Young Democrats.

Goldschlager has also spent time volunteering at the library working with the new 3D printers. He gets to train people from the ages of 7 to 60 on how to use them, and he can print things for fun and for practical reasons.

“We have a bookcase at my house that uses these little plastic pins to support the shelves,” Goldschlager said, “but we’d lost two, so I designed and printed two replacement pins and they work.”

After writing his favorite piece, “5 Ways to Seem Like You Get Pop Culture” last year, Goldschlager is excited to come back for a second year of reporting for Inklings.
Noel Berry
Noel Berry, Video Editor

Comments (0)

All Inklings News Picks Reader Picks Sort: Newest

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *