Okeechobee school cafeterias pass state inspections

OKEECHOBEE — The Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services performed kitchen inspections at the 4,000 schools that participate in the national school lunch program. While nearly a hundred schools in the state had two or more unsatisfactory health inspections, all 10 schools in the Okeechobee school district passed their inspections.

Supervisor of Food Services Lisa Bell was recognized by the Okeechobee County School Board for the food service department’s performance at its Jan. 21 meeting.

“The past five years have been fun, challenging and humbling,” said Mrs. Bell. “Mostly it has been a time of growth for myself and the department. A few years ago I had taken on the stress that came with not being the department that was profitable and not being where the district wanted us to be. But when our department started to feel some success and realized they could make a difference, that made all the difference. That entire group of people have gotten on board. And it’s these kind of things that let those people know that they are important, what they do is important and their hard work matters.”

The food service department has had a remarkable turnaround in recent years. A few years ago the school board was having to fund food service out of the general fund because the department was operating at a deficit. However, last year the department had improved to running a nearly $800,000 surplus. A big portion of that financial turnaround is due to the work and suggestions of food service employees and managers. Employees suggested menu changes and a variety of expense-cutting measures.

The department as a whole was recognized by the Okeechobee County School Board for their work near the end of 2019.

Lisa Bell gave credit to her staff for their work in making sure taxpayers money wasn’t wasted.

“The biggest part of our budget hit is our labor and inventory,” explained Mrs. Bell. “So one of the big focuses we had in the last year was our inventory. We had a plan that was very strict on what the ending inventory should be, and six of our schools met that goal. The community eligibility provision made a dramatic impact on our bottom line. But $365,000 of that surplus had nothing to do with that provision. It had everything to do with what this group and the rest of their staff does day in and day out. And I just want to say we appreciate the school district and school board for supporting us when we were a sinking ship. Now we’re on course and we plan to stay there.”

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