The cafeterias at Washington County Schools are receiving high marks for cleanliness and quality.

Earlier this month, South Central Elementary School became the latest school in the district to have its cafeteria given a score of 100 in an unannounced inspection by the Tennessee Department of Health.

During this school year alone, nine of the system’s 14 school cafeterias have earned a perfect score on health inspections.

They include David Crockett High, Jonesborough Elementary, Boones Creek Elementary, Jonesborough Middle, Ridgeview Elementary, Fall Branch Elementary, Grandview Elementary and Lamar Elementary.

Striving For Excellence

Caitlin Kite, the nutrition director for Washington County Schools, said other school cafeterias in the district have received near-perfect scores on their health inspections.

She places credit for the school system’s high marks with the maintenance staff for keeping the buildings and equipment up to high standards and with the staffs at each of the cafeterias for diligently following all the rules for cleaning and hygiene in the kitchens.

“We never have points taken away from our scores for health reasons associated with a building’s integrity,” said Kite, who has overseen the program since 2016. “Our cafeteria managers and kitchen staffs are highly trained and do an amazing job in Washington County.”

Kite said the job of health inspectors is to “protect the public” by spotting and reporting health code violations in food preparation. In doing that job, she said inspectors often show up at “the busiest and most inconvenient times” for cafeteria workers.

Even so, Kite said there is “never any panic” when those inspectors show up at a Washington County school.

“When health inspectors come to our schools, they know things are going to be top notch,” she said. “We clean constantly, check our temperatures and wash our hands regularly.”

Kite said maintaining proper temperatures is key to operating a healthy kitchen. Foods must be stored and cooked at at the correct temperatures, and dishes must also be cleaned at the proper temperature.

“We strive for excellence,” Kite said, noting that has been a difficult task lately as COVID-19 has played havoc with staffing levels.

Returning To The Lunchrooms

Even so, she said the cafeteria staff is happy to see the “smiling faces of students” once again enjoying their breakfasts and lunches on site after last year’s pandemic-related restrictions.

“The lunchroom staff plays an integral part in a child’s development,” she said. “They are great people who love these children.”

Kite noted that studies have shown that students who eat meals prepared at their schools are likely to do better on their tests and attend classes more regularly.

Brenda Cicirello, the kitchen manager at Boones Creek Elementary School, said the food service employees at county schools begin their work as early as 6 a.m. to prepare the day’s breakfast and lunch menus.

“The quality of our food is top-notch,” Cicirello said. “We have set a standard and we don’t want to fall behind.”

Kite said today’s school cafeterias are shattering the old stereotypes of institutional food being bland by preparing menus that are both fresh and nutritious.

“There has been such a stigma about school lunches, and that’s a shame because our food is of the highest quality,” she said. “We buy local products, such as watermelons and strawberries, when they are in season.”

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Press Senior Reporter

Robert Houk has served as a journalist and photographer at the Press since 1987. He is a recipient of the Associated Press Managing Editors Malcom Law Award for investigative reporting.

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