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Whistleblower reveals school cafeteria condition

Posted at 10:14 PM, Feb 23, 2016
and last updated 2016-02-24 11:26:25-05

A former lunch lady met with Fox 4 days after our report showed photos of cafeteria food sent to us by Lee County students who say their chicken is pink and their produce is rotten.

"I was just like, 'That's not unfamiliar to me. I've seen that.' I've just thought, 'I'm going to have to try and reach out to somebody,'" the lunch lady said.

The cafeteria worker, who's worked in several Lee County schools, said she would talk to Fox 4 if we kept her identity under wraps.

She believes the food complaints and conditions she's experienced all come down to a lack of training. "There's children involved that are going to consume the food that's in there, and God knows what's going to happen to them. It's just not healthy," the cafeteria worker said.

She said she's witnessed food stored at improper temperatures, which was corroborated in Department of Health inspection reports.

"This is what's affecting the way the food is turning out; whether it's not consumable or it's contaminated," she said.

This worker's biggest concern is cleanliness.  A recent unsatisfactory Health Department report at Villas Elementary School points out a grimy sink, milk being stored on cardboard on top of a trash can, and employees not washing their hands.

The cafeteria worker said within the last year, she's seen something worse: roaches near the food.  "That particular heater had a high rise in it with several trays of food, so as soon as I saw one run in there, I just thought 'Oh my God.'  So I quickly grabbed it and pulled it out, and that's when I noticed there were several roaches on the bottom that were dead. Totally, totally disgusting," she said.

A health inspection report from 2014 sites a dead roach found behind an ice machine, but no mention of any other insects since then.  "People are not properly trained. They're being thrown duties on top of duties to do while constantly being called off into other areas," the worker said.

Four in Your Corner took her concerns to the Assistant Superintendent that oversees food services.  "The staff goes through training several times a year on cleanliness standards," Dr. Amy Desamours said.

Fox 4 also asked her about the roach situation the cafeteria worker cited. She said she never heard about it.  "If there was a condition that an employee was concerned about, we would expect the employee to bring that to the attention of the school, of the district, of the food service," Dr. Desamours said.

"For parents that are watching this report and maybe are a little bit concerned about the food that's being served to their children, or the cleanliness, what would you want them to know?" Four in Your Corner's Lisa Greenberg asked Dr. Desamours.

"I would want them to know that we do our utmost due diligence in terms of making sure that the food that we serve to our students every day is nutritious, is quality food," she responded.

"Whatever allegation came forward, I would venture, and put money on the fact that all of our kitchens out there are clean," Dr. Desamours said.

She also said none of the food they serve is cooked on site, it's all pre-cooked, so she said complaints of chicken being undercooked aren't true, and the pink hue seen in the chicken is just the color it is when it's sent.

Villas Elementary's most recent health inspection earned a satisfactory rating.