McCracken County Public Schools: Food is safe despite C grade for cafeteria

UPDATE (Sept. 13): The food service inspector performed a follow-up inspection at the McCracken County High School cafeteria Thursday morning. Joel Barrett told Local 6 he has upgraded the cafeteria’s grade from a C to an A because he found no critical violations.

PADUCAH — A food service inspector recently gave a C letter grade to the cafeteria in McCracken County High School, but district officials say they’re confident the food is safe.

The placard with the letter grade is displayed outside the cafeteria kitchen.

Joel Barrett with the Purchase District Health Department inspected the cafeteria on Aug. 27, giving it an overall score of 94. Despite the high score, he dropped the letter grade to a C, because he found three sandwiches kept at 51 degrees Fahrenheit and a chef salad between 47 to 48 degrees.

Those temperatures are considered to be within the “danger zone.”

“The danger zone is a temperature between 40 and 135,” McCracken County  Public Schools Food Service Director Sara Jane Hedges, director of food service for  Schools. “Typically, what they want in food service operations is your cold food to be held below 40, which would be whatever refrigerator would hold that, and then if you want your hot foods, your hot foods need to stay above 135.”

Barrett said, because food temperature is considered to be a critical area, even having one temperature violation would drop the letter grade to a C. The grade is displayed on a placard hanging outside the cafeteria kitchen.

Hedges told Local 6 the sandwiches and salad were safe, because they were being made fresh and served right away — well within the four-hour holding period.

“I had no doubt in my mind, have any inclination that that food served that day would not have been safe to our students,” said Hedges.

Barrett also said the food was likely safe, but he didn’t want to take any chances. Because Hedges said the food was served well before the end of the four-hour window, Local 6 asked Barrett why he did not factor that in when he gave out his letter grade. Barrett explained that if the school is using time as a temperature control, the school must have that as part of a written policy and submit it to the health department.

Food at McCracken County High School are stored in large coolers kept at 40 degrees F.

Hedges said even though she’s confident the food was safe, she still took the inspection very seriously.

“Once I got the story from Joel, I of course went out and talked to the high school staff and got their side of the story — what they think happened,” she said, asking them, “‘Do you all have enough thermometers? We feeling good? Do we understand?’ And we were all on the same page.”

Barrett is scheduled to return to McCracken County High School Thursday morning for a follow-up inspection, which is standard procedure for all establishments that receive a grade of C. If he finds no critical violations, he said he will give the cafeteria an A grade based on its overall score of 94. If he does find a critical violation, he would give the cafeteria a letter grade of B, which would then have to be displayed on a placard until the cafeteria passes its next regular inspection in six months.

Hedges expects the cafeteria will get an A after Thursday’s inspection, adding that food safety will always be a priority for the school district.

“All McCracken employees are trained annually on food safety and sanitation and things like that,” said Hedges. “All of our managers are also ServSafe certified.”

The school district says there have been no reports of food-borne illnesses since the initial inspection.

To learn more about the health department’s grading policy, visit

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