ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (AP) — A New Mexico school district's food warehouse is infested with rodent droppings, food hazards and improperly placed rat poison, and district officials refused to discard the food in question, according to a memo from a state inspector.
In the document written after a Sept. 15 inspection of the food warehouse of Gallup-McKinley County Schools, state inspector Andrew Wilson said that the district's food warehouse had five "high risk violations." The memo, directed to the state Environment Department, said the warehouse was littered with rodent droppings throughout, contained rat poison in a walk-in refrigerator and had cases of food with ice accumulation on top.
"The staff is still being exposed to rodents and their waste at the R and D warehouse," wrote Wilson, an inspector with the New Mexico Environment Department in Gallup.
Wilson also wrote that after the inspection, district administrators Marco Abeita and Ron Triplehorn rebuffed inspectors' requests to throw out cases of possibly contaminated food. Wilson said inspectors had no choice but to leave the warehouse without seeing their requests honored.
"I feel at this point in time that the Gallup-McKinley County Schools are obstructing the Environment (Department's) ability to inspect or enforce food safety regulations at their food warehouse and that this will affect our ability to protect the students in Gallup-McKinley County Schools from possible contaminated foods," Wilson wrote.
Gallup-McKinley County School District issued a statement Thursday afternoon declaring the school food safe. The district called the reports misleading and said it never received clear guidance from the inspectors.
"An inspection took place last Thursday, and at that time Inspector Andy Wilson claimed to have identified 5 cases of food to have ice built-up; however, when asked a day later to point out which cases, he failed to neither identify nor tag the boxes for testing," the statement said. "As for rat poisoning, it could not be found by District personnel. Currently, the District has a contract for a new freezer plus construction drawings for new warehouse addition, and has rodent abatement with a local contractor, as well as an environmental technician on site.
Superintendent Raymond Arsenault said the district intends to "comply with every regulatory entity out there" but needs better guidance.
"The food served to the students is safe to eat," Arsenault said.
According to state documents, last week's visit by inspectors wasn't the first time that officials at the western New Mexico school district were told about possible violations at the district's food warehouse.
Wilson informed Arsenault in a letter a week before the inspection that state officials gave district officials a copy of state food safety laws after an inspection Sept. 2 and other prior visits.
Inspectors reported that during the Sept. 2 inspection they found "frost and ice buildup in the walk-in freezers" and "cases of food stored under the refrigeration units." The Sept. 2 report also pointed out that inspectors found rat poison in the refrigerator.
"Since we are visiting your facilities on a more frequent basis, I felt that you needed a copy of the New Mexico Food Act," Wilson wrote to Arsenault.