Video: MS 57 Students Grade Their School Cafeteria

MS 57 Students Grade Their Cafeteria from The News Literacy Project on Vimeo.

By MS 57 NLP Students

New York City school cafeterias are inspected on a regular basis by the city’s Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, but MS 57 students wanted to do a little inspecting of their own. The following video report was a collaborative effort of the News Literacy Project, the after-school students at MS 57 and Bloomberg News journalist fellows Ellen Braitman, Dave Coffin, Lori Hoffman and Mick Reed.

During lunchtime at PS/MS57 more than 700 hungry students come through the cafeteria. As we continue our investigation into school lunches, we’re taking a page out of Mayor Bloomberg’s book, conducting our own health inspection of the school lunchroom.

We started out by talking to Hassan Tucker, one of the school lunch aids. We asked him if he and the rest of the kitchen staff are following the proper procedures to clean the kitchen.

“It’s cleaned every day. Bleach, get everything clean, sanitized, said Hassan Tucker.

In New York City, school cafeterias are inspected on a regular basis by the Department of Health and Mental Hygiene.

Article 81 Cover PageThe cafeteria workers at MS 57 must follow the same rules as all other food establishments in the city. Rules outlined in Article 81 of the city’s Health Code.

“Health policy describes cleanliness as bleach, sanitize all of the tables, wash the tables off, make sure that all the dishes are clean and sanitized and we’ve got to make sure all the food is off the floor like six inches and basically just following all the rules,” said Tucker.

We saw cafeteria workers scrub the salad bar and lunch tables between lunch periods.

The most recent health inspection report shows the cafeteria passed with flying colors.

“Zero, we didn’t have any violations. This school is like one of the best schools.”

This hasn’t always been the case. A report from January of 2010 says an inspection found “vermin activity” and fruit flies. But don’t worry: notes show these were resolved. Even Tucker admits the cafeteria record wasn’t always perfect.

“It’s been in the past, but nothing serious. Mostly when the health department comes in, they just want to find something to make sure the kitchen doesn’t get a good grade,” said Tucker. “It makes them look bad if

The latest health inspection report for PS 57 shows no violations.

The latest health inspection report for PS 57 shows no violations.

they can’t find anything. It makes them feel like they’re not doing their job.

Cafeteria workers wouldn’t let us into the kitchen without first putting on a hairnet. And even then we only got as far as the serving area, where we saw workers wearing gloves and hairnets, as outlined in the code.

We asked Benjamin Kilinski, the school nurse, if he’s ever heard of a student getting sick from cafeteria food.

“If someone gets sick from eating, it’s not always clear exactly where it comes from,” said Kilinski. “You make an educated guess, but I haven’t come across someone getting sick from eating the lunch.”

Kilinski said students should take their health into their own hands – by washing them before they eat.

“The most important thing for people to do is be washing their hands before they handle food,” he said. “And the same thing would be for you before you eat lunch, you wash your own hands because you can get yourself sick from things on your own skin when your eating.”

That’s a great idea! If only the sinks in the cafeteria had soap! When we went to wash our hands before lunch, we found water, but no soap and no sanitizer.

So all in all, how would we rate the school cafeteria? We give it a B.



What Is the Real Cost of Lunch Waste?

IMG_0045By Joshleen

Have you ever thought about how much waste students produce each day in the cafeteria?

According to Mildred Martinez, a cafeteria worker at MS 57/James Weldon Johnson Leadership Academy, middle school students produce three very large bags of garbage each day after lunch. That doesn’t even include all the students in pre-K through fifth grade at PS 57. Adding up all the grades, that’s about 30 bags of garbage being thrown out every lunch.

SchoolFood serves over 850,000 meals to New York City’s 1.1 million students each school day, so imagine how much garbage that is.

When we looked at the garbage outside the cafeteria, we saw that the majority of the waste is Styrofoam plates, which do not decompose, so they will be here forever.


Styrofoam plates fill the garbage after lunch.

“Students produce over 700 trays a day each period we give a meal,” said Martinez.

When Jeanine Romeo, a teacher at MS 57, was teaching fifth grade, she tried to convince the principal at the time to switch to biodegradable plates. Her class was doing a unit on global warming and studying eco-friendly businesses in New York City. At a local pizzeria, they found out there are plates made out of sugar cane that would decompose in a month. As it turned out, these plates were available through the Department of Education.

“We asked Mr. [Israel] Soto, ‘if the DOE has an alternative to Styrofoam, why aren’t we using it?” said Romeo. “And he said they were too expensive.”

Styrofoam plates cost 3 cents each, according to, a project of the Fund for the City of New York. According to Romeo, the sugar cane plates cost closer to 52 cents each. Multiply those costs by the 721 students eating lunch at PS/MS 57 each day and you get $21.63 versus $374.92 for plates every day. That’s a big difference.

With a quick Google search, we found biodegradable sugar cane plates for as little as 25 cents, but that’s still a big difference in cost.

Recently, in effort to help cut down on the garbage, the DOE decided to use paper plates one day a week.

By contrast, in India, according to a recent article on Huffington Post, instead of a Styrofoam plate, students eat off a very big leaf. This is good for the community because the leaf can decompose so that there is less garbage.

It’s unlikely New York City school kids will be eating off of leaves any time soon. The chance we have of reducing waste here at MS 57 is if the cost of biodegradable plates comes down.