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Health inspectors call foul at high school concession stands

Volunteers at Florida high schools scramble to bring facilities to code after inspections
Annabelle Tometich, Fort Myers News-Press, Nov. 16, 2012

Referees haven’t been the only ones calling penalties in high school football stadiums this season.

In Florida, state health inspectors are calling fouls on the concession stands where hundreds of parents, students and fans are eating.

Of the more than two dozen sets of high school concession stand inspection reports obtained from the Lee County Health Department, no stand rated satisfactory during its first inspection. The Collier County Health Department only provided its schools’ most recent inspection reports. Of the 14, only one — the Community School of Naples’ ball field concessions — rated unsatisfactory.

The state Department of Health started requiring school concession stands be permitted and inspected last year. School principals had to submit permit applications to their county health departments. Concession-stand inspections began this year.

“Concession stands have evolved from handing out candy bars and sodas to full-service food operations,” said Ken Danielson, an inspections supervisor with the Lee County Health Department.

MORE: PDFs of Inspection Reports (See ‘Related Links’ on Left)

“Now they’re grilling, they’re frying. Since they do have potentially hazardous foods there — foods that require refrigeration or require hot holding — Tallahassee decided these stands do need permitting.”

Unlike restaurants, which are inspected by the Department of Business and Professional Regulation, each county’s health department is responsible for inspecting its schools’ concession stands. The stands are usually inspected in tandem with the schools’ cafeterias. Inspectors grade stands as satisfactory, unsatisfactory or incomplete. They have the authority to shut down stands in extreme circumstances, though Danielson said his goal is to educate rather than reprimand.

Missing refrigerator thermometers was the most common violation, with dirty equipment and improperly stored chemicals also frequent.

When Estero High athletic director Jeff Sommer submitted his school’s permit applications, he was sure his stands would easily pass. Sommer should know, he eats from them three nights a week some weeks.

“We had the rubber mats on the floor so the volunteers weren’t killing their joints. We went in and cleaned everything up top to bottom,” Sommer said. “Our inspector was tough.”

She found a broken sink, an improperly stored mop, water that wasn’t flowing hot enough, foam cups stored on the floor — the list of violations from the first inspection of Estero’s football/soccer concession stand spanned three pages.

Everyone from Estero Principal George Clover to booster club volunteers sprung into action, buying thermometers by the fistful to monitor refrigerator temperatures, and reusing crates and shelving from other parts of the school to get cups and soda cans up off the floor.

Those easy-on-the-joints rubber mats had to go. Food could get trapped and become unsanitary.

“We’d been doing everything we thought was right,” said Terry Roharman, president of Estero’s booster club and mother to senior baseball player Brooks Roharman, “but when you’re not in the restaurant business it’s different — you don’t know.”

A few hundred dollars and three re-inspections later Estero’s football/soccer concession stand was up to code. The stand had zero violations during the inspector’s most recent visit Aug. 23.

“Like anything new, this has taken some adjusting,” said Vito Mennona, athletic director at Mariner High.

“They went into our football concession stand in the spring and found ants and cobwebs, but no one was in there for six months. These are buildings that were built by boosters in 1988, so in 2012, yes there are going to be updates needed.”

Booster club presidents said updates and repairs have been mostly minor, and that knowing their hot dogs and hamburgers are coming from safer places is worth the extra work.

“I go to games at other schools, I eat their concessions,” said Holly Marth, president of Fort Myers High’s athletic booster club. “I think the health department getting more involved is beneficial to all of us.”

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