The CHS cafeteria team consistently on the honor “roll” (pun intended)

On the heels of appallingly low health inspection scores at two Atlanta-area restaurants trending in the headlines last weekend, our own CHS cafeteria crew was also making news on CHS’s social networks for, once again, earning a perfect 100 on the county’s health inspection. Considering over 2700 students are provided two meals a day on two campuses simultaneously with a limited number of staff, this is an outstanding accomplishment. We wanted to investigate what makes this dream team so successful.

The food services team shows off their recent inspection reports. [Photo Credit: CHS Twitter}

Dekalb restaurant, Arizona, made viral news on August 16 when it scored a 21, shutting down its operations. Not only did it fail with the “lowest score” a WSBTV reporting investigator had ever seen, it failed its re-inspection with only a 46. It finally passed the third inspection and re-opened.

Immediately following this report, the locally beloved Asian buffet restaurant, Pacific, (next to the Walmart in Kennesaw) failed with a 49. Anything below a 70 is failing.

Logically, it’s not a difficult test to pass, but does include a thorough 18-point inspection list to ensure people stay safe.

I interviewed Ms. Stacy Thomas, head manager/director of food services for Cherokee High School. I wanted to see what made this dream team work, so I went to the “coach” so to speak.

I asked her how she ensures that they always make a perfect score.

Ms. Thomas explains their protocol for ensuring safe food preparations.

We go around to make sure that everything is kept in order because we have guidelines we have to go by to make sure we have a safe environment.

Ms. Allen, fellow staff member, added

We have to make sure that everything’s done right so that when the county comes in–the health inspector–the kitchen has to be clean. Also we make sure our freezers are in good condition and always working.

Freezers and refrigeration were the leading areas of failure for the Arizona restaurant.

In reference to how hard it is to earn a good score, they stated that inspectors will deduct points with issues as simple as an area where grease accumulates in a trap with a bay filibuster area. It doesn’t have to be something always wrong with the food itself. The evaluation thoroughly assesses the food preparation areas in addition to ingredient storage and handling.

I also asked them about the food served. What are the protocols for what food is served? Do they get to design the menus or custom create foods?

We make sure our kids like the food we make. Everyone’s favorite food is orange chicken, which when we serve it, we call it “Chinese Day.”

We also make the kids get a fruit or vegetable. It’s not because we’re being mean. It’s because it’s mandatory for them to either have a fruit or vegetable.

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This rule they noted reflects rules set by organizations such as the GA Department of Public Health (DPH). Food variety is limited to strict constraints primarily set by DPH’s Nutrition Policy for School Districts in Georgia and other factors such as funding and budgets. It would likely impossible to serve a gourmet Greek chickpea salad on a whim one day inspired by a Pinterest pin.

Before you lament that orange chicken day is not daily, or that our food, like most American cafeteria food, looks pitiful compared to countries such as Sweden or Japan, here are some of the guidelines set by government policy:

  • Schools must offer fresh fruits, vegetables, whole grain-rich foods, and low-fat or fat-free milk following age appropriate dietary needs.
  • Nutrition guidelines must meet federal school meal standards.
  • They must be in compliance with parents, students, school food authority representatives, PE teachers, the school board, school health professionals, the lead education agency, school officials, and promote student wellness in multiple areas of evaluation. Really.
  • These aforementioned standards apply to all food and beverages, including a la carte items.
  • Schools are prohibited from using cooking oils that contain trans fat or sell processed foods containing trans fatty acids that were formed during processing.
  • Foods should appear appealing and attractive (and follow all those rules?).
  • Meals should “exceed nutrition requirements established by local, state, and Federal statutes and regulations.”

And of course, this food must be bought, stored, and prepared within a budget competing with county supply, technology, personnel, etc budgetary needs, and bought from only approved vendors. –And reflect something students would desire to eat to prevent waste, and using analytics to figure out how many students frequent which food and beverage options to help in future purchasing decisions. This is a complex job involving a number of individuals from CHS through the Cherokee County School Board.

Strict regulations seem to imply this would be an ideal high school student’s lunch should a budget allow. [Photo Credit: Chickpea Blog]

Ms. Thomas and her team’s efforts reflect dedication and pride. They have met strict guidelines and standards to ensure that CHS Warriors are provided the best. When you see Ms. Thomas, Ms. Allen, or another team member, please stop and tell them how much we appreciate the work they do.

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