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Evidence of the widespread existence of pests was discovered in nearly half of NYC school cafeterias, according to numerous news reports.

Mice, rats, roaches, and flies were just some of problems discovered during an investigation of public school cafeterias conducted last year by the New York City Health Department. The data was obtained and published by the NYCity News Service, the student news service of the City University of New York Graduate School of Journalism.

More than 1,150 critical violations were reported last year in nearly half of the 1,407 NYC school cafeterias. Some of the lowlights of the report:

  • A citation for one critical violation was issued to 695 cafeterias.
  • City health inspectors found an average of two violations per school visit.
  • Evidence of vermin in kitchens and dining areas was found in 617 cafeterias issued a critical violation.

Such violations could lead to foodborne illnesses, which can result in sickness, hospitalization, or even – in extreme circumstances – death.

Several NYC school cafeterias with the worst inspection records serve the city’s neediest students. One of the worst offenders was Millennium Brooklyn High School in Park Slope, which was cited for seven critical violations.

Some other findings:

  • At PS 132 in Williamsburg, five second-graders became sick after consuming cafeteria lunches.
  • A city health inspector found live roaches and almost 600 fresh mice droppings at PS 398 in East Flatbush in Brooklyn.
  • An inspector found about 1,500 flies in Middle School 137’s kitchen in the borough of Queens.

The city’s 1,407 public school cafeterias are inspected twice a year, but the city has only 15 inspectors.

“All schools must provide students with safe, clean cafeterias, and we ensure that they meet all federal and state requirements,” read a Department of Education statement. “Nothing is more important than the health and well-being of students and staff, and we work closely with the Department of Health to immediately investigate and address any violation. In 2017, approximately 98 percent of schools passed their inspections.”

What is foodborne illness?

According to the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases, foodborne illness – or food poisoning – is an infection or irritation of the gastrointestinal (GI) tract caused by food or beverages that contain harmful bacteria, parasites, viruses, or chemicals,

Most foodborne illnesses are acute, meaning they happen suddenly and last a short time, and most people recover on their own. Occasionally, an illness may lead to severe complications.

Each year, an estimated 48 million people in the United States experience foodborne illness. Foodborne illnesses cause 128,000 hospitalizations and about 3,000 deaths in the United States annually.

Foodborne illness symptoms

The most common symptoms of foodborne diseases include:

  • fever
  • headaches
  • nausea
  • vomiting
  • abdominal cramps
  • diarrhea.

However, in more severe cases, symptoms may include:

  • bloody stools
  • double vision
  • inability to swallow
  • speech difficulty
  • paralysis of the respiratory system.

Reporting your foodborne illness

If you suspect that you’re a victim of a foodborne illness, contact your local health department. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) says that by investigating foodborne disease outbreaks, public health officials learn about problems in food production, distribution, and preparation that may lead to illness, and use this information to help control ongoing outbreaks and prevent future outbreaks.