Parents upset about Wake Schools' use of plain water to clean lunch tables

Diane Wilson Image
Thursday, August 31, 2017
Is plain water enough to clean school lunch tables?
The practice at Wake schools has some parents concerned.

WAKE COUNTY (WTVD) -- The use of just water to clean the tables during the lunch hours at Wake County Schools has several parents raising concerns.

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No soap and water, no disinfectant, just plain water in a spray bottle to clean the tables in between the different lunch sessions.

Michelle Brock has a second grader at a Wake County School. She says she believes just using water to clean the tables in between the different lunch sessions causes several health concerns.

"You have multiple students eating at a table or a certain surface over a course of a two- to three-hour period of time and one student might have a stomach virus," she said. "They are running a fever, and then they touch that surface and then a child following them eats on that same surface without it being sanitized or disinfected. It just seems to me that for the safety of our students that it makes sense they would clean the tables with something other than just water."

Kira Kroboth is also upset with just the use of water to clean the tables in between in each session. She has two children who attend a Wake County School. Her 5-year-old son, Elias has a severe peanut allergy.

"Water is shown not to remove a nut protein," Kroboth said. "My biggest fear is him having another anaphylaxis reaction."

She says Elias' allergy is so bad, if peanut residue even gets on his skin, he will have a reaction. His doctor even wrote a letter stating the necessity of cleaning Elias' table with more than just water.

Though Elias' school does take certain steps to try to minimize his exposure to peanuts during the lunch hour, Kira says she was told by the district that no exceptions would be made when it comes to using more than just water to clean the tables.

"Lunch is done in rapid fire," Kroboth said. "They say it does not give enough time for a chemical cleaner to dry as it should for those who may react to a chemical before the next group sits down.

"I sympathize with the fact that chemicals could be irritating towards another child's skin," she continued. "However, an unclean table for him could be a matter of death with a life-threatening food allergy."

Kroboth says there is a simple solution.

"I even asked them why can we not use the soap that's in the bathrooms and mix them in with spray bottles," she said. "If that is approved for use in the bathrooms, and kids are washing their hands with it every day, then it should be fine on the table."

I reached out to the Wake County Public School System for an interview. Instead, they provided this statement:

"Student health practices consider the safety of all students. Food allergy practices are driven by WCPSS Food Allergy Guidelines and are based on scientific literature.

The rapid turn-around of students in our cafeterias during lunch sessions does not allow for the safe use of chemicals (including soap) for all children. We use a surface sanitizer on tables after breakfast session and after the final lunch session. The use of sanitizer takes place when no students are present.

Our practices consider the safety of all students with medical conditions and allergies, including food and environmental."

In order to keep all students safe, a student's individual care plan provides accommodations for safety in the school setting. Safety accommodations for the cafeteria can include sitting in an assigned seat, using a barrier such as a placemat or paper towel, eating out of the student's lunchbox, and putting an allergy alert sign on the student's lunchbox.

According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, when it comes to reducing the unintentional transfer of allergic food to another, cleaning with water alone will not remove food allergens. It states clean and sanitize with soap and water or all-purpose cleaning agents.

After I started asking questions of Wake County Schools, Kroboth did get new information from the district.

Thursday, the district reached out to her via email and stated they are still reviewing Elias' allergy plan. While it's under review, Kroboth says the district now says Elias' school will start cleaning his table spot at lunch with a soap and water solution, followed by a wipe with a damp towel, before meals.

Kroboth says the email stated the school would also encourage classmates to wash their hands after meals. Though she is happy these accommodations are being made for her son, she says she wants to see all tables being cleaned with more than just water in between each lunch session.

Michelle Brock feels the same way.

"To me, it seems like it puts our kids at risk, an unnecessary risk," Brock said. "I just shake my head in disbelief in what our school deems appropriate for our children."

There are several Wake County parents who formed a Facebook group called Families for Food Change in Wake County Schools. They say the group started to come together to minimize risks and maximize safety in the schools.

Again, I do want to point out that Wake County Schools do use sanitizer on the tables after breakfast and after all of the lunches sessions are complete when no students are present. The use of water is only in between each lunch sessions.